CAVITE, Philippines — Arnel Agravante, a YouTuber in the Philippines, informed his followers final October that he knew how Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the presidential front-runner and his candidate of alternative, had grow to be rich.
The story, he stated, was easy: Mr. Marcos’s dictator father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., didn’t steal cash from the authorities, as has been extensively reported. Rather, he was given tons of gold by a secretive royal household in the Philippines. “That’s what they call ‘ill-gotten wealth,’” Mr. Agravante stated, ridiculing Mr. Marcos’s critics.
The gold story has been debunked by a number of reality checkers in addition to by Mr. Marcos himself, however that has not stopped Mr. Agravante from repeating it. The means he sees it, he’s a part of the “alternative media” countering a mainstream press “spreading stupid and wrong information about our history” earlier than subsequent week’s election.
“The Philippines is paying the price for not having regulatory oversight and not making sure that the general population has a necessary cognitive resilience against these kinds of brazen and blatant lies,” stated Richard Heydarian, a political analyst at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
Much of the disinformation is being peddled on Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. The violent Marcos period is being recast as a interval of sturdy financial progress and infrastructure initiatives. Leni Robredo, the nation’s vice chairman and Mr. Marcos’s chief rival, is being painted as a communist who has completed nothing in workplace.
In one video, Jovalyn Alcantara, recognized to her 24,000 TikTok followers as Mami Peng, falsely claims that the Philippines’ debt doubled to $50 billion beneath Corazon Aquino, who turned president after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.
“So what if it’s incorrect?” she stated when a New York Times reporter identified that she was fallacious. Her video has been seen greater than 27,000 occasions.
President Rodrigo Duterte received the election in 2016 partly as a result of his allies flooded Facebook with false information about his opponents. But Mr. Marcos’s supporters have chosen a completely different method to social media: livestream video.
YouTubers livestream Mr. Marcos’s rallies whereas echoing the candidate’s election narrative. They unfold false details about his wealth and repeat allegations that Ms. Robredo cheated to defeat him in the 2016 vice-presidential race.
Analysts predict that this military of streamers is so massive and devoted that Mr. Marcos would most certainly flip to it — reasonably than to the conventional information media — to unfold his message as president.
“All candidates, all political parties engage in disinformation,” Benjamin Abalos Jr., Mr. Marcos’s marketing campaign supervisor, informed The Times.
The streamers say they aren’t paid by the Marcos camp, although they’re formally accredited as “vloggers” and roam freely at his rallies. A dozen of their channels have a complete of 1.6 million subscribers on YouTube and over 500,000 followers on Facebook, in accordance with a overview by The Times.
A YouTube spokesman stated the firm had eliminated greater than 400,000 movies between February 2021 and January for violating hate speech, harassment and election misinformation insurance policies. A spokeswoman for Meta, Facebook’s mum or dad firm, stated an account flagged by The Times had repeatedly shared false content material and had been barred from monetizing such posts.
But false claims can’t be simply fact-checked or eliminated throughout a livestream, and the rising prevalence of apps similar to TikTok has made it tougher to weed out dangerous actors.
“If this election is won using disinformation, this will become a tried and tested formula that will be used in every election,” Ms. Robredo warned in a speech to the Catholic Church, urging individuals in the Philippines to not consider the lies the web.
Yvonne Chua, who leads Tsek.ph, an impartial fact-checking challenge in the Philippines, stated in an e mail that the reality checks from its companions pointed largely to Mr. Marcos’s supporters, who “engage in fire-hosing a lot.”
“You also see incorrect information coming from certain candidates, but these are rare,” stated Professor Chua, who’s an affiliate professor of journalism at the University of the Philippines.
Mr. Agravante, who promoted the debunked principle about Mr. Marcos’s wealth, was a call-center agent earlier than deciding to grow to be a full-time YouTuber final 12 months, producing newbie movies for his 109,000 subscribers. A longtime supporter of Mr. Marcos, he is aware of the candidate has refuted the declare about the gold. Still, Mr. Agravante is unapologetic.
“Why would I change my mind just because he denied it?” he stated.
The energy of newbie movies like the ones produced by Mr. Agravante is that “they appear authentic or organic,” stated Jonathan Corpus Ong, a disinformation researcher at Harvard. “They sound like the language of the streets or the ordinary person, as compared to the professionally produced ads and music videos of the Robredo campaign.”
The pro-Marcos movies typically use daring letters and colourful graphics and images of Mr. Marcos and Sara Duterte, Mr. Duterte’s daughter, who’s operating for vice chairman. One such video contained an interview with a Marcos acolyte who claimed that the 1986 People Power Revolution, which toppled the Marcos regime, was a product of “brainwashing” by the Aquino household.
Vincent Tabigue, who made the video, disputed the numerous authorized circumstances in opposition to the Marcoses, mentioning that nobody in the household had been put in jail for stealing cash from the authorities. “That’s just a political attack,” he informed The Times.
Mr. Tabigue, 27, stated that he had stop his job as a salesman to grow to be a full-time YouTuber in 2019 and that he earned near $10,000 a month.
While nobody in the Marcos household has been imprisoned, Mr. Marcos’s mom, Imelda, was sentenced to as much as 11 years in jail for creating non-public foundations to cover her unexplained wealth. She posted bail in 2018; her enchantment is pending.
The Senate acknowledged the downside of misinformation in the Philippines in 2018 when it held a collection of hearings on the disaster. But no concrete steps have been agreed upon, leaving particular person lawmakers struggling to get the challenge beneath management.
In February, Senator Francis Pangilinan, who’s operating for vice chairman in help of Ms. Robredo, known as for the Senate to overview of felony legal guidelines to curb misinformation and proposed a invoice to deal with the challenge. His efforts went nowhere.
On a current motorcade with Mr. Marcos’s presidential marketing campaign, Ms. Alcantara, the TikTok influencer, held a telephone in her left hand as she helped one other supporter arrange his livestream. With her different hand, she flashed the peace signal, the trademark image of Mr. Marcos’s father.
“Marcos always!” she yelled.
Ms. Alcantara, 44, stated her TikTok account had been quickly banned a number of occasions after being reported by Ms. Robredo’s supporters. “Why is the problem just with us Marcos supporters?” she requested. “It’s the same with what the other candidates’ supporters are doing. They also post misleading claims, right?”
She wept as she recalled “all the good things” the Marcoses had performed for her group. “This is the moment we’ve been waiting for,” she stated.
Sui-Lee Wee and Jason Gutierrez contributed reporting.