Journalists covering Marcos: Trolling, disinformation to worsen

Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., right, and Imee, left, talk to journalists in front of the Philippine Supreme Court in Manila, Philippines, Monday, April 2, 2018. AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

“Troll attacks will worsen with the incoming Marcos administration,” Regine Cobato and Lian Buan said in Facts First, a program on relevant facts and issues hosted by award-winning journalist Christian Esguerra.

Buan, a Rappler journalist who covered the campaign trail of presumptive president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., shared that troll attacks and harassment against her worsened during the election season.

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Meanwhile, Washington Post journalist Regine Cobato shared that she received waves of “nasty” comments after her report on the disinformation of the Marcos campaign was published.

For them, the attacks are just the beginning. “This is an infrastructure and industry that is built on lies, and every time you tell a lie you have to make more to cover the previous ones up,” Cobato said as she details the series of attacks against journalists before the elections.

The press under siege

Before the national elections, Buan recounted instances where her inquiries were snubbed by the Marcos camp, the latest being, Marcos spokesperson Atty. Vic Rodriguez’ non-recognition of her question about a Picasso painting.

“They have a lot of issues that were not addressed during the campaign; journalists will now follow up on these questions,” Buan said. She shares that Marcos Jr. and his spokesperson won't answer the questions, but the troll armies and their supporters will, on their behalf.

Both journalists shared that they received hate mail and death threats designed to “break” them. Cobato shares that the current state of the press is unprecedented and violent in a different way. According to her, the trolls now target the mental health of journalists, attacking their spirit and credibility and making it harder for them to reach their audiences.

Program host Esguerra underscored that “trolls” are emboldened if they are not confronted, and said that they have to be exposed.


The Washington Post journalist said that there is an alternate Philippines which is currently dominated by disinformation narratives. Cobato shares that academics and researchers found out that the disinformation network is a decade-long project which was sustained on different platforms and flourished in the age of social media.

“Because the information atmosphere is noisy, truth becomes harder to impart,” Cobato said of the persisting disinformation network. For her, dismantling the denialism of baseline facts is not the task of journalists but should be achieved through interdisciplinary work with educators and other members of society.

Moreover, Buan underscored the importance of confronting “denialism.” For her, journalists should recognize that they are on the verge of being defeated and must accept the situation so that they can learn how to fight back. For Buan, journalists should “break the conspiracy of silence.”

Basti Evangelista is a news and opinion writer who focuses on Philippine national politics and sectoral issues. His personal advocacy includes press freedom and social justice.

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