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Duterte slams Facebook after military-linked accounts purged

'We have to talk' about platform's future in the Philippines, president says

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has taken aim at U.S. social media giant Facebook. (Nikkei montage/Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division/AP and Kei Higuchi)

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte has criticized Facebook's removal of accounts linked with Philippine military and police, setting up a potential clash that could complicate the social media giant's operations in one of its largest markets in the region.

Facebook last week removed 57 Facebook accounts, 31 Pages and 20 Instagram accounts for violating its policy relating to "coordinated inauthentic behavior" on behalf of a foreign or government entity.

The accounts were posting news and events related to domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, a pending anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition, among others, according to Facebook.

"We allow you to operate here hoping that you could help us. Now, if government cannot espouse or advocate something which is for the good of the people, then what is your purpose here in my country?" said Duterte in a televised meeting with cabinet officials late Monday.

"You cannot lay down a policy for my government. ... You cannot bar or prevent me from espousing the objectives of the government," the president added.

Duterte also delivered a veiled threat against the social media giant: "Is there life after Facebook? I don't know but we have to talk."

Facebook declined to comment on Duterte's remarks.

Apart from the military-linked accounts, Facebook also took down over a hundred fake accounts that originated in China, which were posting content about Beijing's interests in the disputed South China Sea and Hong Kong, as well as content supportive of Sara Duterte's potential 2022 presidential bid. Sara is President Duterte's daughter.

This is not the first time the social media platform has purged accounts in the Philippines, where Facebook is hugely popular. The company previously took down pages, including pro-Duterte ones followed by millions of accounts, due to various violations, including the use of fake accounts. Duterte did not publicly comment on the takedown at the time.

In June, meanwhile, the country was hit by a surge in fake accounts, with many journalists, students and politicians reporting that they were the subject of impostor accounts.

Despite his criticisms of the social media giant, Duterte himself has also benefited from Facebook's popularity in the Philippines. The former Davao City mayor's aggressive social media campaign helped him win the 2016 presidential election, while his communications team still broadcasts his speeches and public appearances online to reach a wider audience.

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