For all the recent hand-wringing in the United States over Facebook’s monopolistic power, the mega-platform’s grip on the Philippines is something else entirely. Thanks to a social media–hungry populace and heavy subsidies that keep Facebook free to use on mobile phones, Facebook has completely saturated the country. And because using other data, like accessing a news website via a mobile web browser, is precious and expensive, for most Filipinos the only way online is through Facebook. The platform is a leading provider of news and information, and it was a key engine behind the wave of populist anger that carried Duterte all the way to the presidency.
If you want to know what happens to a country that has opened itself entirely to Facebook, look to the Philippines. What happened there — what continues to happen there — is both an origin story for the weaponization of social media and a peek at its dystopian future. It’s a society where, increasingly, the truth no longer matters, propaganda is ubiquitous, and lives are wrecked and people die as a result — half a world away from the Silicon Valley engineers who’d promised to connect their world.