PH military asks Facebook to close terrorist accounts

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Philippine military is asking Facebook Philippines to close at least 63 accounts allegedly controlled by local terrorists and their sympathizers because they are being used for propaganda.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-ar Herrera said on Friday, June 9, the armed forces' social media monitoring team uncovered at least 63 Facebook accounts belonging to the terrorists and their supporters.

“There are 63 Facebook accounts that have been utilized by the Maute local terrorist group and their sympathizers. These 63 accounts are spreading malicious operations that affect the information landscape and the mindset of every Filipino,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera, the military spokesman in Marawi City. 

“We are requesting Facebook Philippines to take down these accounts. They are spreading lies and misinformation. They are creating more problems in our fight versus local terrorist groups,” Herrera added.

Herrera said the military headquarters in Manila has coordinated with Facebook’s office in the Philippines. 

Some of the accounts have been reported to Facebook, but monitoring by the military continues to show more suspicious accounts. 

Herrera said it is obvious that the Facebook accounts are using fake names to hide their real identities. They also want Facebook to help identify who are behind these accounts. 

Herrera appealed to netizens to be conscious of how local terrorists groups have been using social media to misinform the public. 

“These Facebook accounts have twisted the truth and twisted the real situation,” said Herrera.

Propaganda video

The military has lamented how quickly ISIS propaganda videos spread online. One video, for example, shows the terrorists hitting army tanks with rocket-propelled grenades. 

Herrera admitted the Army lost control of the tanks but it doesn’t mean that the military is losing the war, he added. On the contrary, Herrera said the military continues to “gain more foothold” in the battlefield. 

Hundreds of militants waving the black Islamic State (ISIS) group flag rampaged through Marawi on May 23 and seized parts of the city.

They have so far fended off more than two weeks of air and ground assault by government forces.

President Rodrigo Duterte said the attack was part of a wider plot by ISIS to establish a base in the southern region of Mindanao, and declared martial law there to quell the threat.

Forty government troops and 138 terrorists, have been confirmed killed due to the fighting, according to Herrera.

Twenty civilians have also been confirmed killed but the true number is likely to be higher with authorities yet to fully assess the roughly 10% of Marawi still being held by the militants.

About 2,000 people are believed to be trapped in the militant-held areas with some being used as human shields, the military has said.

ISIS has made extensive use of social media to strike fear and spread their ideology, and analysts have said many of their followers were radicalized by reading and listening to online propaganda material.

When asked about the military's request, Facebook said it would remove accounts that promoted terrorism.

"We want to provide a service where people feel safe. That’s why we have community standards that explain what you can and cannot do on our service," a Facebook statement said.

"Our community standards do not allow groups or people that engage in terrorist activity, or posts that express support for terrorism. Fake accounts are also prohibited."  – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com