As the coronavirus pandemic forces the country to shift to digital transactions, more effort is needed to secure cyberspace against troublemakers. Over the weekend, there was a surge in cloned Facebook accounts, mostly targeting students and alumni of the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
Impersonating Facebook accounts is not unusual; what drew attention was mainly the high number of cloned accounts. Because of the timing and a sentiment shared by many of the victims, there is suspicion that the cloning might be connected to the protests against the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act.
The government has denied any hand in the creation of the account impersonations even as Congress has forwarded the anti-terrorism measure to Malacañang. Probes of the cloning have been launched by the Department of Justice and the National Privacy Commission. Meanwhile, Facebook has started taking down the cloned accounts and has encouraged those targeted by impersonators to report the cases to the social media giant for appropriate action.
The cloning has not stopped opposition to the anti-terrorism measure. But there are concerns that the cloned accounts might be used to post materials online that would earn the owner of the genuine account an indictment, arrest and detention for violation of existing cybercrime laws.
It’s uncertain if the mass cloning was due merely to a Facebook glitch or was deliberately set off. But it highlighted the need to improve protection for online users. The Department of Information and Communications Technology should step up to the plate and implement measures in this direction. The DICT should also be at the forefront of efforts to make digital technology accessible to the masses. The pandemic has made this a matter of grave urgency.