New Study by Comm Prof Investigates the Fake News Production and Social Media Troll Industries in the Philippines

Jonathan Corpus Ong, associate professor

Jonathan Corpus Ong, associate professor of communication, and researchers at the University of Leeds (U.K.) have released a new research report that sheds light on the network of digital workers designing political disinformation campaigns, authoring fake news and fanning the flames of public discontent in the Philippines.

The report, “Architects of Networked Disinformation: Behind the Scenes of Troll Accounts and Fake News Production in the Philippines,” outlines the motivations and strategies of people it labels “the chief architects of networked disinformation”—a professionalized hierarchy of political operators who maintain day jobs as advertising and public relations executives, computer programmers and political administrative staff.

Co-authored by Ong, and Jason Cabañes, lecturer in international communication at the University of Leeds, the report is based on a 12-month research project that involved in-depth interviews with disinformation architects and online observation of the fake accounts they operated.

“We were initially curious about the kind of people who become ‘paid trolls’ and how they manage to live with that stigma,” said Ong. “Meeting the people behind fake Facebook accounts, we learned that there is actually a professionalized hierarchy with ad and PR strategists at the top.”

The study explains how strategists set campaign objectives based on input from their political clients, then delegate political marketing responsibility to a team of digital influencers and fake account operators. These operators infiltrate online communities, artificially trend hashtags to hijack mainstream media attention, and disseminate disinformation to silence enemies and seed revisionist history narratives.

Read more online about this new study.