From May 23 to October 23, 2017, the world turned its attention to the Philippines to witness a five-month weary battle between government forces and the terrorist group Daesh in Marawi, Lanao del Sur.
The five-month siege resulted in massive damages including destroyed houses and properties as well as the loss of lives of 1,200 people, mostly militants.
The conflict also brought the spotlight to those who can be considered as heroes of the nation, who braved the enemies in the battlefield to counterattack violent extremism.
But unbeknown to many, the Philippine Army also had a dedicated battalion who fought to free Marawi from terrorists. But instead of fighting in ground zero, they faced the battle behind computer screens.
During the Marawi crisis, the government forces found an unconventional ally in social media, which the Philippine Army utilized not just to quickly and efficiently disseminate information to the public and to counter fake stories shared by the Daesh group.
Through social media, the Philippine Army was able to tell the public the untold stories and sacrifices of the soldiers, which resulted in the outpour of public support, which is exactly what’s needed to boost the morale of the brave warriors risking their lives in the war-struck city.
To be equipped with adequate knowledge about the digital space, 70 men from various units of the Philippine Army’s 1st Infantry (Tabak) Division 1ID underwent extensive training and familiarization to essential web tools.
A month before the Marawi siege, #TeamTabak, the monicker and brand name of the 1ID launched its own website and its official social media accounts.
This became an avenue for the Philippine Army to reach the masses in line with its aim to relay accurate and verified news and information, to let people appreciate more the efforts of the soldiers, and to malign statements that tarnish the reputation of the military.
During the Marawi siege, the said team who led the Informations Operation Cell of the JTF Marawi counterattacked the destructive digital mechanism of the Daesh group using more than 100 social media accounts across various platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
Their responsibilities as soldiers have become augmented with the task at hand: to act and perform like legitimate journalists, editorial professionals, and an all-around social media monitoring team.
Apart from being a platform for information dissemination, social media became instrumental in analyzing the online behavior of the Daesh camp.
With this, the IO Cell of JTF Marawi found out that the terrorist camp promulgates a false belief that it was the soldiers and the police themselves who are stirring chaos in Marawi and that the government can no longer contain the situation.
The group also found out that the Daesh group banked on social media posts saying that religion is the reason behind the attack in Marawi, though the group and its supporters failed to cite instances about discrimination and injustice targeted to Muslim groups.
Another finding is that the Daesh group was able to lure the youth to support their agenda through black propaganda on social media.
In the duration of the longest urban war in the modern history of the Philippines, the IO Cell of JTF Marawi operated round-the-clock in three shifts: 8 AM – 4 PM, 4 PM – 12 AM, and 12 AM to 8 – AM. The group managed to track and monitor hundreds of social media accounts and posts of supporters of the Daesh group and has managed to counter the effects of fake news and false information about the situation in Marawi.
The intensified digital presence of the Philippine Army led to the identification of 63 jihadist accounts, 20 days into the war. Following this, the AFP proceeded in coordinating with Facebook for such accounts to be removed for stirring terrorism.
On the 23rd of October, the Marawi siege officially ended. Along with the success of soldiers in the said city is the victory of AFP’s digital warriors who now don’t have just a confederate but a weapon through social media.
These are just a part of our troop’s efforts during the Marawi Siege. Get to know more about how social media became influential in the battle in Marawi in the book “Marawi and Beyond: The Joint Task Force Marawi Story Truth Conquers, the third book of six series produced by the Operations Research Center of the Philippine Army.