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A Suspected Killer’s Fans Are Still Promoting Him Online

Rose Furigay, the former mayor of the city of Lamitan in the Philippines, was attending her daughter’s graduation when she died on July 24. A man shot and killed her and two others at the graduation ceremony at the Ateneo de Manila University’s School of Law. The shooting suspect was quickly identified as Chao Tiao Yumol, a doctor from Lamitan and microinfluencer who used his verified profile on Facebook—where he had about 60,000 followers at the time of the shooting—to discuss politics, including his support of former president Rodrigo Duterte and current president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., as well as his ongoing grievances with the Furigay family.

In the immediate wake of the shooting, Yumol’s Facebook page gained nearly 13,000 new followers, according to reports from local outlet Rappler, and it became a hub of comments, many from people praising the shooting or sympathizing with Yumol’s decision. When Rappler reached out to Meta three days after the shooting, the page was taken down. But content from other influencers, as well as regular users praising, supporting, and justifying Yumol, has continued to circulate on TikTok, YouTube, and to a lesser extent Facebook, exposing how social media companies continue to struggle with how to respond to violent extremism.

Police say the shooting was a culmination of a “personal” grudge. In 2019, when Yumol’s clinic was shuttered by the regional government for operating without a license, he blamed then-mayor Furigay, even though it was the regional government, not her local government, that handed down the decision. In response, Yumol accused Furigay of being involved in corruption and the drug trade, particularly salient claims after six years of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, which left thousands dead in extrajudicial killings. These were claims he repeated on his Facebook page and in interviews with the media.

“When Facebook left his page up for a day or two after the shooting, people were able to go back to all his videos and old accusations, and they were able to magnify the narrative that he is a whistleblower, or this small community doctor going against this big local politician family,” says JM Lanuza, assistant professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, who studies misinformation on TikTok. “We saw platforms take swift action regarding pro-Russia accounts when the Ukraine conflict started. But you don’t see that same sense of urgency with political content or developing countries like the Philippines.” This means that disinformation actors’ content remains on these sites, he says.

In 2020, when Kyle Rittenhouse, a white American teenager, shot and killed two people at a Black Lives Matter protest, Meta said it would remove content celebrating the death of the victims. When Rittenhouse was acquitted, however, the company reversed its decision, saying it would “no longer remove content containing praise or support of Rittenhouse.”

Though Lanuza noted that Yumol was on the “fringe” of the influencers who support Duterte and Marcos, he was amplified by other accounts—including one major influencer, a Los Angeles-based Filipina who goes by the name Maharlika and has 935,000 followers on Facebook. Another page with 14,000 followers, called “Ilonggo ako Duterte ako,” described Yumol as “brave.”

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