Discussions of fake news have been dominated by the US election and the Brexit campaign. A new report sheds light on fake news as experienced in the global South, based on unprecedented access to the shadow industry of political trolling in the Philippines.
The report, titled Architects of Networked Disinformation: Behind the Scenes of Troll Accounts and Fake News Production in the Philippines, is a joint effort by Jonathan Corpus Ong from the University of Massachusetts and Jason Vincent Cabanes from the University of Leeds.
Based on one year of interviews and observation of high-level strategists and fake news authors, the authors mapped out a highly organised and professionalised hierarchy—what they called the “architecture of networked disinformation”. While trolling in the Philippines has been attributed to high-profile bloggers who support President Rodrigo Duterte and amplify his offensive and misogynist speech, the real “chief architects of disinformation” hide in plain sight. Holding respectable day jobs as top executives in ad and PR agencies, their political side hustles—undisclosed and unregulated—are an industry open secret.
The article sketches ethnographic portraits of disinformation architects to shine a light on their work routines, social and financial motivations, as well as the mental acrobatics they make to justify morally sketchy work. It identifies the vulnerabilities in the creative industries and particularly the digital influencer industry that have not only enabled disinformation work but made it financially rewarding.
The Philippines, with its highly organized digital labour force represents a “stockpile of digital weapons” that have potentially grave consequences to democracies in the West. The report outlines preliminary policy recommendations and argues against a one-size-fits-all approach to disinformation interventions in global context.
You can download the Architects of Networked Disinformation: Behind the Scenes of Troll Accounts and Fake News Production in the Philippines here.