The recent scandal related to the misuse of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica alarmed the Philippine government. The National Privacy Commission (NPC) demanded that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg determine whether or not 1.1 million potentially affected Filipino users had their personal data shared with Cambridge Analytica. The NPC will also conduct its own investigation “to determine whether there is unauthorized processing of personal data of Filipinos.” Thanks to the 67 million active Facebook accounts in the Philippines, the archipelagic Southeast Asian country known as the world’s social media capital, has been ferociously hit by the scandal, second only to the United States in terms of the number of impacted accounts.
As revealed by the latest threat to the online privacy of social media users, the Philippines remains vulnerable on cybersecurity. While information and communications technology (ICT) is a vital element that links and educates people, it can also be employed as a weapon to infringe on personal privacy and disrupt critical cyber infrastructure.
Southeast Asia hosts promising tech hubs for students, professionals, and electronic-oriented consumers. With a growing economy and over half a billion increasingly tech-savvy people, and numerous social media subscribers, the ASEAN region, and the Philippines in particular, have seen tremendous participation in and contribution to social media dynamics.
In a 2008 study, Filipinos ranked first in the world in social networking, sharing photos, and viewing videos. The Philippines was second in both reading blogs and sharing videos; fourth in writing blogs and downloading podcasts; and sixth in using rich site summary or RSS feeds. Email, instant messaging, and web search were reported to be the most common online activities of Filipino internet users. In 2011, the Philippines was proclaimed the “Social Networking Capital of the World” by a Wall Street investment firm. The following year, social media received a high trust rating among consumers in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Although television remains the most popular form of media, online users have grown rapidly in reach and influence today.
However, there are also dangers lurking behind the phenomenal success of social networks, particularly when it comes to the region’s cybersecurity infrastructure. As ICT continues to invade and pervade human life, cybersecurity threats likewise become invasive and pervasive. Taking advantage of realities, cybercriminals and cyberterrorists, including trolls, have learned to use sophisticated technology and exploit this as a new weapon of destruction. That hackers employ ICT as efficient and effective media of cybercrime is a policy issue that must not be underestimated.
During the 2016 presidential elections in the Philippines, there were about 49 million active monthly users of Facebook in the Philippines, of whom many were using hashtags, status updates, photos, and videos to discuss the campaigns. Social media helped President Rodrigo Duterte win a landslide victory, with Facebook Philippines proclaiming Duterte as the “Undisputed King of Facebook Conversations.” That conclusion was based on Facebook Philippines’ analysis of data collected from the 15.2 million Filipino netizens who engaged in election-related conversations.
The deep integration of social media in Philippine politics since the 2016 national elections will continue in the mid-term elections next year, despite the recent Facebook data breach. Politicians and voters alike will seek to optimize social media use, now that it has tremendously changed the country’s political landscape. For many Filipinos, social media, particularly Facebook, has become more critical than ever, even though online activity remains dominated by middle-class people, especially critical millennials who are tagged as digital natives. This asymmetry of power stands out for those who have access to social media, while those who do not have access are excluded entirely from the arena.
Recent events have proven that social media should not be underestimated but instead seriously regarded as a new security battlefield. Cyberspace has become a platform for both the best and worst aspects of humanity. While it can be a hotbed for game-changing ideas and artistic expression, cyberspace has also turned into a breeding ground for trolls, felons, cyberthugs, and security breaches. With the expanding influence of the information superhighway and social media in shaping a borderless and transnational world, governments should learn how to harness the power of these networking sites and engage citizens to be critically aware of the repercussions of cybersecurity.
Policymakers and security practitioners in the Southeast Asian region must be kept abreast of nontraditional cybersecurity threats in order to reduce and manage risks to state and human security. Proper handling of information through the use of various cyber investigative techniques helps eliminate cyberthreats. Institutionalizing cybersecurity programs in the Philippines and the region will certainly develop and improve the capacity and competency of security administrators in managing transnational cyberthreats.
Our global way of life depends on the secure and safe operations of critical systems that depend on cyberspace. It is for this reason that the government, private sector, and other concerned group must develop competency and technical expertise in cybersecurity. Cyberattacks can make or break the state of normalcy in a nation and the interconnected world. Countries with different policies and positions must take collaborative measures to ensure a safe and secure cyberspace through security cooperation in various regions of the world. This will make our global community more resilient to cyberthreats and attacks, and ensure the promotion of cybersecurity as a common interest of all nations.
Dr. Chester Cabalza is a security analyst.