Project description

This package of stories is part of Rappler’s continuing coverage of social media, disinformation, and attacks against the press which began in 2016. These data stories along with relevant updates and the fact check explainer pieces produced by Rappler’s fact check team are now consolidated in the microsite “Media, Society, and Digital Transformation,” which aims to inform readers about the nature of disinformation online and how it affects media and democratic societies.

It combines the use of data gathered by Rappler through the Sharktank, a tool it developed for monitoring publicly available content posted on public groups and pages in Facebook, and data from Rappler’s fact check project to gain more insight on how falsehoods are circulated online by disinformation agents on social media.

The story on attacks against the press documented how the repeated use of a coined term: ‘presstitute,’ and other related derogatory terms have successfully undermined the Philippine media and made people exposed to social media less trusting of the press in the two years of the Duterte administration.

The analysis of the networks of ‘spammy Facebook take down of ‘spammy’ pages showed that there were pages belonging to the same network and exhibiting similar inauthentic behavior were not yet taken down. These networks included pages owned by key public officials and candidates in the 2019 elections.

The package also includes stories examining a dubious website which have previously posted hoax content. Curiously, by examining data on the use of the term “experts” by this site, Rappler found links between disinformation networks in the Philippines and key account which figured in a US report on Russian disinformation. This observation is set against a backdrop of friendlier political ties between the Philippines and Russia.

What makes this project innovative?

While other newsrooms in the Philippines fact check, we’ve taken it a step further by using data generated from the fact checks to produce in-depth analyses of the nature of disinformation in the Philippines. Because it is difficult to monitor Facebook, Rappler developed its own monitoring tool for monitoring public spaces within the platform: public groups, public pages, and publicly available posts.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

Insights gleaned from the data and research stories produced as part of this series have since informed both local and international discourse concerning disinformation and propaganda online. Specifically, these series of reports, combined with Rappler’s database of fact-checked content, now provides very useful insights on how disinformation and propaganda is introduced and circulated in Facebook through networks of pages and groups. Beyond the stories, Rappler integrates insights from this research in the design of modules for fact check workshops conducted for volunteers and cause oriented groups. Rappler has presented these insights in international conferences as well as in locally organized fora and workshops. These insights have since also highlighted gaps in current approaches and actions to addressing the spread of falsehoods online. The analysis of the first takedown, for instance exposed additional networks, some of which now appear to have been included in the March 2019 takedown of accounts connected to President Duterte’s social media campaign manager during the 2016 elections.

Source and methodology

Our initial source of data of this series is the Sharktank, which initially captured data from Facebook groups connected to 26 fake accounts that were investigated as part of Rappler’s propaganda series. From this initial area of coverage, Sharktank’s scope of monitoring grew as the tool discovered content from other pages and groups whose posts were shared within these original groups. Newly discovered pages and groups were added if they were determined to be posting politically-relevant content and if they were found to be posting hoaxes. Some pages and groups were added because these were either submitted to Rappler’s fact check team or discovered via Facebook’s fact check tool. From a baseline number of 300 public groups and 74 pages, this tool is now tracking around 900 public groups and over 8,000 public pages on Facebook. Within these groups and pages, it has tracked 60 million public posts and 440 million public comments, up from baseline of 7 million public posts, 250 million public comments in December 2017. Through posts and comments posted within these public groups and pages, is able to track 10,000 unique urls every day, or about a million urls every 100 days. Rappler compares and combines data sourced from the Sharktank with data gathered through its fact check project, including those sourced from Facebook’s fack check tool, content submitted by readers for fact checking as well as content discovered through Crowd Tangle.

Technologies Used

We use our internal monitoring tool which has scrapers for gathering publicly available data on Facebook (via API and browsers). We also use Crowdtangle’s a social media discovery tool owned by Facebook. To capture data from the fact checks, we use Check, a fact-checkign tool developed by Meedan. For data analysis, we use Google Spreadsheets and MySQL. We use Flourish to visualize the network of "spammy" accounts, pages, and websites. We used whois lookups to determine the registration details of the website's domains. We also used The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine to get snapshots of the websites that were nonexistent anymore.

Project members

Project lead: Gemma Bagayaua-Mendoza. Team members: Vernise Tantuco, Michael Bueza, Wayne Manuel, Glenda Marie Castro

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