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Technology

Philippines hit by surge in fake Facebook accounts

Social media giant launches investigation after drawing complaints

Francis Pangilinan, a opposition senator in the Philippines, says students opposed to an anti-terror bill are being targeted by bad actors on Facebook, and urged the company to act. (Nikkei montage)

MANILA -- Facebook is investigating reports in the Philippines of a weekend spike in the number of fake accounts on the social media platform.

Users of Facebook, including students and journalists, appealed to others on the platform to report fraudulent accounts. Some users reported having as many as a dozen fake accounts -- many of them empty -- under their names. It was not immediately clear how many accounts were created.

Facebook said it was looking into "reports of suspicious activity."

"We understand the concerns raised by our community in the Philippines. We're investigating reports of suspicious activity on our platform, and taking action on any accounts that we find to be in violation of our policies. We encourage people to continue reporting any accounts they believe may be inauthentic," a Facebook representative said in a statement.

The proliferation of fake accounts takes place against a backdrop of polarization in the Philippines, as the country is divided over an anti-terrorism bill that human rights advocates fear could curtail free speech. Public policy debates have increasingly shifted to social networking sites, due to the recent lockdown.

Francis Pangilinan, an opposition senator who reported five fake accounts, said college students who oppose the anti-terror bill were also being targeted, and urged Facebook to act.

"Students are worried that these accounts may be used to plant bogus evidence that would implicate them in crimes outlined in the anti-terror bill," Pangilinan said.

Raymund Liboro, chairman of the National Privacy Commission, on Sunday said he had called the matter to the attention of Facebook's Philippines country representative, Clare Amador. "They are already investigating this particular matter, as well as other information on unauthorized Facebook accounts," Liboro said in a statement.

Facebook has previously shut down accounts, which according to the company, were purveying inauthentic and spamming behavior in the Philippines, where the platform is hugely popular.

In recent years Facebook has taken down pages that violate its rules, some of which target political opponents of President Rodrigo Duterte.

The proliferation of fake accounts has been a key criticism of Facebook and a headache for the company, which earlier said that around 5% of its worldwide monthly active users are fake. The company said it disabled 1.7 billion fake accounts from January to March.

Sen. Pangilinan said Facebook needed to do more. "Facebook has been making billions of dollars as it turns a blind eye on disinformation and deception. Fake Facebook accounts can be likened to a crime scene, and Facebook a willing accomplice to the crime," Pangilinan said. "This must stop."

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