Will Facebook’s security system ever cure fake news and trolling?

BIG brouhaha over the week was the blocking of veteran and multi-awarded journalist Inday Espina Varona from accessing her Facebook account. The reason for the incident was apparently some trolls had undertaken a cyber operation to report Varona’s account as unfit for the social media platform. Her access was restored by Facebook after an uproar from supporters.

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In its official media statement Facebook said that a “security bug” caused Varona and many others from accessing their accounts with the reason that their system suspected that it was a false name or identity.

Here are excerpts from the story by ABS-CBN:

A “security bug” caused Facebook to lock the accounts of hundreds of Filipinos, the social media giant said Monday.

A Facebook spokesperson, in an emailed statement to news.abs-cbn.com, said the company has built “numerous defenses to combat phishing and malware, including complex automated systems that work behind the scenes to detect and flag Facebook accounts that are likely to be compromised.”

The same automated systems prompted Facebook “to ask a set of people to secure their accounts.” 

“This was due to a bug in the system and the precautionary step was not needed in this case, so we have removed the messages and the impacted people should now be able to access their accounts normally,” the spokesperson said. “We apologise for any inconvenience we caused.” 

Over the past week, reports of Filipino Facebook users getting locked out of their accounts surfaced, alarming some that it may be the work of a secret group of hackers…

…It prompted netizens to think that a self-confessed pro-Duterte group had something to do with it.

The group posted on Facebook a call for the surveillance of people who are supposedly trying to influence young people into believing anti-Marcos rhetoric…

…Since then, students from the Ateneo de Manila University, which was one of the first schools to protest the Marcos burial, have had their accounts “compromised.”

User Jan-Daniel Belmonte, whose account was also compromised, has found more than 200 other victims, most of whom are students from Ateneo and the University of the Philippines.

 The verified personal Facebook account of veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona was also disabled by Facebook on Monday, without any explanation, for several hours.

 Her account was restored, as of 11:30 p.m. Monday night.

 Elizabeth Hernandez, Facebook’s head of public policy in the Asia Pacific, told Espina-Varona in an email that her verified account “was incorrectly enrolled in a fake name checkpoint.”

“Your account has been cleared from this checkpoint,” Hernandez said. 

Following reports of Filipino Facebook users getting locked out of their accounts, the social networking site also gave some tips on how to secure them.

While Facebook has been lauded for taking some initiative to try to stop the proliferation of fake news and trolling, its machine language and algorithm based systems still lack that human touch — the discernment and community-based evaluation of what’s true and what’s false.

I went through that same experience before the May 2016 elections. While it was nothing traumatic, it was a bit disconcerting to have to prove that you are a real person and not some fake troll or bot.

Basically I just woke up and could not log into my Facebook account — including my pages and messages. I got a message from Facebook that I had been blocked and that the course of action for me was to email them a copy of a photo identification to prove I was a real person.

I initially hesitated, thinking my account was hacked and that it was a phishing operation to steal my identity and personal data. But eventually I followed instructions and sent them a Jpeg copy of my driver’s license. Within hours I was restored.

Why is it, I thought, that my account was blocked when my Facebook timeline was full of life with photos of family and friends, posts of happy times, multiple times a day, while obvious fake accounts of sexy ladies asking to be my friend, newly created and no posts to speak of and one or two provocative profile photos were left unmolested?

The answer was simple. It was the time I was blogging critically about many politicians, specifically the presidential candidates for the 2016 elections. While I was writing critiques of all candidates, I was particularly critical of the Mar Roxas and Noynoy Aquino. Well, critical is a tame word. I could not find any redeeming value in that campaign, to say the least.

Was this party responsible for my Facebook blockage? I don’t know. But as early as then I knew this problem would only grow.

It seems that the onus is on us, the honest and legitimate users. Those trolls just have to wreak havoc with their fake accounts and false identities. They move around and move on when blocked. We real people have to protect our reputations actively.

It’s like EJK online — there is no due process. You get shot first then get a chance to redeem yourself later. Cyber tokhang is what they call it.

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