Recognizing the crucial role of the Internet in the counter-terrorism campaign, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Wednesday discussed a possible partnership with Facebook Philippines to prevent terrorist groups from exploiting the web.

gapay 1 - AFP, Facebook to team up to crush terrorism online
Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay (PHILIPPINE ARMY / MANILA BULLETIN)

Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay, AFP Chief of Staff, led a virtual meeting with Clare Amador, Facebook Head of Public Policy in the Philippines, to learn about global efforts to counter terrorism and deal with harmful content on the social media platform.

Amador said that Facebook is a member of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT), a consortium of companies established in 2017 to prevent terrorist abuse of the members’ digital platforms. 

“We laud and express gratitude to the members of the GIFCT, including Facebook, for stepping up in its self-regulation initiatives that targets the dissemination of extremist propaganda, including photos and videos of terrorist violence,” Gapay said.

“We likewise, in the security sector, shall extend any assistance as needed and our lines of cooperation shall always be open,” he added. 

According to the country’s top military commander, there have been documented cases where social media was used by terror groups as a tool to advance their campaigns. 

For example, he said the war against the Daesh in the Middle East and the country’s own experience in fighting terrorists in Marawi City proved the potential of social networks as conduit for the fast spread of violent extremism and terrorist propaganda in an area.

Gapay stated that the spread of videos and images of execution “incites fear and panic among the public,” and “increases the morale of terrorist elements and their sympathizers.”

Meanwhile, he bared that private messaging applications continue to be used as a first line of communications by the terrorists, followed by personally mediated and face to face meetings in recruitment and radicalization of its members.

For its part, the Facebook team shared the GIFCT’s nine-point plan which aims to prevent terrorist exploitation of the Internet while respecting human rights and freedom of speech. 

“We seek an open and above-board partnership with social networking sites to prevent and counter the spread of violent extremism, without curtailing the rights of users to free expression and information,” Gapay said.

The Facebook Philippines currently has partnerships with other government agencies for its endeavors on child safety, education, human rights, elections, and law enforcement. 

It recently met with representatives from the Department of National Defense and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency to discuss matters on counter-terrorism.

Meanwhile, Major General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said that the military has also raised the issue on the Facebook’s shut down of dozens of accounts that were allegedly connected to the military and police.

These accounts reportedly used fake profiles to spread misinformation on Philippine politics and to sow hate against the critics of the government.

According to Arevalo, representatives of Facebook Philippines discussed the firm’s policy on governing the removal of accounts and pages focusing on the “behavior”and not the “content” of the posts.

“While submitting to Facebook’s ownership of the platform, AFP Chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay urged Ms. Amador and her team to look into the process they observe in unilaterally removing accounts and for them to give due regard to the cause the account owner espouse to remove doubts of FB being partisan,” Arevalo said.

He said among the accounts removed was “Hands Off Our Children,” a group consisted of parents whose children were missing or had been recruited by the communist rebels — which is an advocacy that the AFP “shares and advances.”

According to the military spokesperson, Gapay asked Facebook if it can restore “Hands Off Our Children” and other groups of similar advocacies like preventing child exploitation and trafficking of minors, and combating terrorism. 

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