Cabaero: Targets of dummy accounts

Nini Cabaero

IT STARTED as an apparent online attack on those who have voiced their opposition to the anti-terrorism bill of the House of Representatives.

But when several family members and friends started having the same issue, it didn’t look like they were targets. It appeared random. Or maybe it was deliberate indeed. As of Monday afternoon, June 8, 2020, Facebook still has to issue a statement on what happened.

What is evident is that, for the victims of dummy accounts, the issue disrupted their weekend and made them worry about the risks of someone impersonating them on social media.

They were afraid that anti-government statements were being attributed to them on those dummy Facebook accounts, although many of the accounts didn’t contain text as these were immediately reported to Facebook and taken down.

This issue of Facebook accounts being created to impersonate others is an example of how a technology glitch, if it is a glitch, can have significant political and social implications. It disproves then Facebook’s claim that it is a mere platform because what goes wrong with it can make it wrong for government and many individuals.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has entered the picture when it said Sunday that it would have this sudden spike of fake Facebook accounts investigated. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he ordered the DOJ’s Office of Cybercrime to coordinate with the cybercrime units of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police to look into this issue.

“This gives me cause for worry. We don’t need false information at a time when we’re dealing with a serious public health crisis,” Guevarra reportedly said. He is right.

The University of the Philippines (UP) has advised its students and alumni to check their names on Facebook in view of the surfacing of dummy accounts. A statement from the UP Office of the Student Regent also said these empty, duplicate and fake accounts which bore the names of the university’s students came after the protests in UP campuses and threats to their students. Student leaders were arrested at the UP Cebu campus Friday for staging a rally against the anti-terrorism bill.

To report an account for impersonation, go to https://www.facebook.com/help/fakeaccount. The SunStar Cebu and Superbalita Cebu accounts on Facebook also came out with graphics showing step-by-step the process in making a report.

The suspicion was that those students and alumni members who voiced their opposition to the proposed law against terrorism were targeted by pro-government keyboard warriors who have been known to target critics of the government.

With dummy accounts surfacing on Facebook, more people are now finding their newfound power to fight back against these cybercriminals. What it says about Facebook, however, is that it is more than a platform, because what happens on it may affect many, and it has to take responsibility for the mess.