This series of stories verified the role of a blogger turned government official in spreading "fake news" and disinformation on social media, based on her own posts and shares in her own Facebook page.Margaux "Mocha" Uson has 5 million followers on her Facebook page, Mocha . She is known for being a staunch online defender of President Rodrigo Duterte online. She has long been accused of being in the center of pro-Duterte propaganda and disinformation campaigns.In May 2017, the President appointed her to a high-ranking position in the government’s communication office. This raised suspicions on government funds being used to spread fake news and propaganda.Uson is known for her attacks against the media, calling them "presstitutes" – a wordplay on press and prostitute – and accusing them of spreading fake news. In a Senate hearing on disinformation, Uson claimed to be a “victim” of fake news.
What makes this project innovative?
For this project, we used a mix of data forensics and on-ground investigations. We used CrowdTangle, a social media monitoring platform affiliated with Facebook, to scrape Uson’s Facebook posts, including those that have been deleted already, to analyze the content that she helped spread on social media in the past year.Our first investigation led us to another actor in the country’s disinformation ecosystem: Trending News Portal (TNP), a popular “digital news outfit” that, according to our investigation, helped amplify fake stories by publishing them as reports on viral topics.Our reports featured not only an analysis of their content, but an interview with a former employee of TNP, a background check on their owners, and a look into their business certifications.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
Our stories have been shared widely on social media and were used by netizens to call out Mocha Uson, the government, and Trending News Portal for spreading disinformation online.Trending News Portal changed their domain and started deleting old content that may be used against them. Uson also stopped sharing content from the websites mentioned.
Source and methodology
We used Facebook-owned CrowdTangle to scrape the data on Uson’s Facebook page, which gave us a credible data on her posts, including deleted ones.We went through thousands of posts and manually cleaned the dataset. We then verified the data by cross-checking it with the data previously scraped by Rappler’s social monitoring lab.After analyzing the data, we found out that Uson has been amplifying content produced by Trending News Portal (TNP). We then analyzed TNP’s content and posts on Facebook.We were able to establish that TNP published misleading content that defended President Duterte and attacked his critics, and helped them grow their reach online. To hide their role in disinformation campaigns, TNP regularly changed their domain names, deleted old posts, and blocked Internet crawlers from archiving their content.We also checked TNP’s business registration to learn about the people behind it. From there, we conducted a series of on-ground and online investigations including examining the owners' backgrounds, checking social media posts of employees, and even interviewing a former employee.
We primarily used CrowdTangle to collect data, but Rappler also developed its own tool to monitor disinformation online called the SharkTank which we used to verify our dataset.We then used DataWrapper to visualize our data.
Bonz MagsambolRappler Research Team