Money and credulity drive Duterte’s ‘keyboard army’

By Rizal Raoul Reyes & Mia Rosienna Mallari | Correspondent

A YELLOW bill a day motivates this so-called Dutertroll. Bert (not his real name) spends at least five hours on Facebook every day and earns as much as P500 for doing so.

The 25-year-old works in a branch of a well-known Internet café. He said he spends his free time switching between seven carefully fabricated anonymous Facebook accounts he specifically made for amplifying any kind of posts related to President Duterte.

“’Yung iba, jejemon na ginagawa ko na pang-away. ’Yung iba naman kunyari disenteng tao—’yung may diskurso ba. Iba-iba para hindi halata [The other accounts are jejemons I use to rail people; other accounts I make appear as by a decent person engaging in discourse. I have created different accounts, so that it would appear these were made by different people],” Bert said, looking over the café counter.

According to Urban Dictionary, a jejemon is “anyone with a low tolerance in correct punctuation, syntax and grammar.”

Bert said he has been taking up offers of being a “keyboard warrior,” or an “online fighter,” as Bert describes himself since he was 20. He said he was part of a group of “warriors for rent,” but refused to divulge more information regarding their numbers.

Bert said he doesn’t consider himself a “troll,” a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community.

Job order

ACCORDING to Bert, Internet trolls are too many to count.

Basta madami kami. Madami ding grupo,” Bert said. “Ako minsan ginagawa ko na lang for fun ba, kasi nakakatawa mag-react ’yung mga tao. Lalo na kapag sa tingin nila totoong tao din ’yung inaaway nila online [Believe me, we’re many; there are also many groups. I sometimes do it for fun, because I get a kick from people’s reactions, especially when they treat the account as a real person].”

Bert said the group he belongs to has been active since the 2010 elections, and was formerly tasked to campaign online for a different political party, where the majority of the winning candidates came from. However, a better offer came during this year’s elections, he said.

According to Bert, all he knew was the “job order” came from an avid supporter of Duterte, not from someone working within the political system.

Bert lowered his voice as a customer checked out from his station and paid at the counter.

Basta ang sabi lang sa amin, mag-ingay at patunayan na solid ang suporta ng tao kay Duterte,” he said. “Syempre, susunod lang kami. Konting comment lang, pera na din ’yun ba [They just told us to create noise, and prove support to Duterte is solid. Of course, we’ll follow through, because a small comment also means money].”

Quite visible

ASIDE from the spicy and colorful character of the President, another noticeable element in the Duterte administration is the presence of people like Bert, who are quite visible in the social-media space.

Critics of the administration labeled them as paid hacks ready to defend ferociously the tough-talking President against any form of criticism.

“If you are saying that there is a formal, organized and government-paid group that is financially compensated to take the cudgels for the Duterte administration, I am not aware of that,” said Edgardo Clemente, chairman of the group called Metro Manila Duterte Movement. “I think that most of those who defend the President in cyberspace are mostly individuals who believe in what President Duterte stands for. To assume that the most vocal ones are paid hacks completely misses the point, because it will lull the Duterte detractors that once the money tap is closed, the Duterte supporters will wither away.”

Clemente also believes the anti-Duterte group operating in cyberspace does not have a financial backer, but are composed mostly of professionals who worked gratis—for free—during the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

‘Yellow Army’

CLEMENTE said his knowledge of the goings-on in the online social media comes from his experience as an administrator of the Facebook page of Mr. Aquino.

He mentioned there was a group of people who was called as the “Yellow Army,” in reference to the Aquino bloc’s political color.

“I know several of their members, some of whom are still active today against [Mr.] Duterte,” Clemente claims. “But they are mostly professionals and were never paid during the P-Noy administration nor are they paid today.”

He said the majority of the groups he formed and administered for Mr. Aquino were used in the plunder case against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the impeachment case against the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, and the plunder charges against Sens. Juan Ponce Enrile, Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jose Estrada.

Due to a falling out with a member of the Yellow Army, Clemente said he agreed to divide their group.

“These same groups were used for the [Manuel] Roxas presidential campaign and are also active in the current anti-Duterte sphere.”

According to Clemente, the members he got from those who bolted out of the Yellow Army are the ones actively defending Duterte in the social-media sphere.

He also claims to have managed to recruit millions of other members in the months before the 2016 presidential elections.

Clemente said he has offered the use of these members to key officials of the Duterte administration, “but they declined”.

He added that some group members may not be Filipino citizens or in the voting age of 18. Facebook admits members as young as 14 years old.

“There could [also] be duplications in people joining more than one of our [Facebook] groups.”

All work

BERT said their group leader is a fortyish man who gives out assignments to people who are available.

No names are dropped, no employers are ever known, he said in Filipino. All we know is that if we keep the comments coming, the money comes in, too, he added.

Bert said he also has no information about his fellow trolls. He’s not certain regarding their identity or whether the accounts they are working under are made up, as well.

For most of us, this is all work. The money puts food on the table. The more accounts you have, the better, he added.

“Sideline lang naman po ’to, ma’am; extra ba. Maliit lang bayad ko dito sa shop. Pero hanggang pito lang kaya ko i-manage [This is just a sideline for me, ma’am, something extra. What I pay for use of the computer in this shop is small. But I can only manage seven accounts].”

When asked about how he manages to argue all day, he said he doesn’t have to make sense all the time. Bert said he just has to support Duterte and continuously bash the Liberal Party. He said he reads articles from time to time to get information on current events to make some of his fake accounts’ discourse more believable.

Madali madala ang mga tao sa Facebook. Napatunayan na namin [It’s easy to sway people on Facebook. We’ve proven it].”