Karapatan urges CHR, Facebook to investigate online red-tagging, digital security threats

Human rights watchdog Karapatan called on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Facebook to launch a probe over the cases of online red-tagging in the country amid controversy over the recent reported cases of duplicate dummy Facebook accounts of activists as well as ordinary individuals expressing views critical of the government. 

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay averred that “these blank accounts are not mere glitches, as some have hastily claimed. We are raising alarm that the creation of these accounts poses serious digital security threats, with dangerous implications on people’s rights, lives, and safety, and we strongly urge the CHR and Facebook to investigate and address them.”

“Glitches do not send messages filled with death and rape threats, vilification, and red-tagging — and many of those who received them have voiced their opposition online on the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill. Hundreds more are reporting duplicate dummy accounts, and with millions of Filipinos using Facebook as part of their daily lives, we are urgently concerned these accounts are part of a massive and orchestrated campaign to further weaponize the platform against activists, human rights defenders, and even ordinary individuals airing dissent,” Palabay stated.

In letters addressed to Facebook Philippines and the CHR, Karapatan detailed various forms of red-tagging, vilification, and disinformation in Facebook posts from the accounts of numerous government agencies such as the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict as well as military and police units and offices. In the said posts, human rights defenders and people’s organizations have been labelled as “communist terrorist” groups or protectors of “terrorist rights” amid the looming passage of the Anti-Terrorism Bill. Karapatan also documented at least 245 organizations in the Philippines have been red-tagged by State forces and government officials.

The recent report of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the human rights situation in the Philippines acknowledged the pervasive online and offline attacks against human rights defenders for years and that red-tagging — the malicious labelling of individuals and groups as terrorists or communists — has been a persistent and powerful threat to civil society and freedom of expression.

“We should have nothing to fear on the Anti-Terrorism Bill if we are not terrorists? Online red-tagging and disinformation campaigns led by none other than the government itself are creating a chilling effect to deter individuals from expressing dissent. Various forms of red-tagging from State agencies and government officials have preceded violations against human rights defenders and our communities. In the middle of a pandemic, the government is pouring funds and resources for the abuse of online platforms for State-sponsored disinformation and attacks on freedom of expression and other civil liberties,” the Karapatan official stated.

“Facebook must act against the further weaponization of their platform for State terrorism and violence. We also further appeal to the CHR to act on the cases of disinformation, red-tagging and vilification against activists online. Now, more than ever, we must stand to assert our rights amid blatant efforts to harass and make us cower in fear,” she urged.