Online Media and Terror: Lessons from the CPP-NPA Virtual Operations

By: Sylvia Windya L.

Historical background of the CPP-NPA-NDF

Since the American colonial period, the communist insurgency had become a problematic national security issue for the Philippines. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) was established on December 26, 1968. It is a revolutionary party for the Filipino proletariat and people under the doctrine of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism which is aimed to fight for national liberation and democracy against US imperialism and as the basic alliance of the working class and agricultural workers.

A year later in 1969, the CPP’s armed wing – the New People’s Army (NPA) – was founded. It consisted of former fighters of national force against the Japanese which were categorized as a guerrilla army. Their combat experiences demonstrated an invaluable power for the newly-formed of CPP.

Further, in 1973, the CPP-NPA initiated the National Democratic Front (NDF) of the Philippines as its political wing of which is responsible for gathering support from diverse political parties and groups. The CPP-NPA-NDF have contested against the Filipino government for more than 50 years.

In general, the CPP indoctrinated the thoughts of three major mainstreams such as Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism. Also, it released the classical works of Marx, Engels, Lenin Stalin, and Mao Zedong. It implemented the ideology of Marxism-Leninism to understand the new democratic and socialist stages of the country revolution and also applied Maoism to fight against modern revisionism as well as prevent capitalist restoration.

Furthermore, the founder of the communist movement in Philippines, Jose Maria Sison, developed the narrative of poor governance, economic decline as well as social, economic inequalities, and wealth disparity as the result of failed-state of the Philippines.

Their ultimate goal is to substitute the present governance system with a socialist system through a violent approach including military operations, mass campaign, political lobbying and international solidarity among other left-wing groups.

However, in December 2017, Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines, signed a declaration stating the CPP and NPA as terrorist organizations in accordance with Section 3 and 15 of Republic Act No. 10168 and its implementing rules and regulations.

Former studies about the development of those communist insurgencies in the Philippines demonstrate the factual condition of imminent risk from the CPP-NPA development especially related to the existence of advanced technology which becomes the driven factor to the organizational expansion.

Therefore, this article discusses two major findings such as the general impact of the internet for terrorists and how the internet has been playing as an essential element for CPP-NPA propaganda and recruitment efforts. Finally, some strategic recommendations are presented including the technique of developing a counter-narrative approach for combatting the CPP-NPA online strategies.

The use of the internet as an operational funnel for terrorists

The emergence of the internet in our daily life impact significantly to the way of how human communicates, including for terrorists and insurgencies.

In general, the internet and the advance of worldwide website enable people to access all information provided across countries. Maura Conway notices that even terrorists also benefit from these technology improvements especially for expanding their publicity and propaganda. They need the internet in psychological warfare with the public. They seek for the opportunity to publish their historical fighting efforts, leaders’ vision and mission, their heroic operations and also their counter-narrative against the official government.

By using the internet for spreading misleading information, threats and horrific images, they believe that they could successfully conduct asymmetric warfare for four functions.

The first function is information provision. As mentioned before, publicity and propaganda are the most important elements for the organizations for securing their existence.

The second function is financing. Modern technology now also offers the innovation of payment methods. Besides offering a new payment system, the internet enables people gathering financial supports through social media and e-commerce platform by masquerading the direct solicitation for humanitarian mission and charities campaigns.

Thirdly, it is common sense that terrorists use the internet to improve their networks and link them with not only their internal sub-groups in the region but also in the world. The development of organizational structure from hierarchical type to small hub-cells forces them to modify their communication strategy maneuvering into a more sophisticated and low-cost channel like the internet.

Finally, the fourth significant function is as a recruitment tool for the organization. They exploit the internet to mobilize their sympathizers to be more engaged in their activities. Modern technology enables them to create a system and platform for socializing their events and movements to wider community including through discussion forums. They can facilitate online chat rooms and target receptive members of the public, especially the young community for reaching out to potential recruits.

The recent trend of using online media by the CPP-NPA-NDF

At present, the CPP-NPA-NDF is continued recruiting people supporting the movement especially the youths. There are two strategies for recruitment. The first effort is general offline recruitment. Since the 1970s, they have been recruiting educated young people by teaching the ideology in schools and colleges.

The CPP leaders openly disseminated the doctrines of Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism on several campuses including the University of the Philippines Diliman, the University of the Philippines Los Banos, Ateneo de Manila University and Central Luzon State University.

Furthermore, in terms of empowering broader adolescents’ groups, Jose Maria Sison also established the Kabataan Makabayang as a leftist student organization in 1964. Two main goals identified of recruiting youths such as to augment the numbers of sympathizers, members and cadres, and also to recruit more child soldiers as the next generation of the organization.

Secondly, the recent trend applied by the CPP-NPA-NDF is through an online platform. Research conducted by Jane’s Intelligence Review in January 2019 reveals that their online activities consist of two main activities such as for local militant commands and politic domain of the organization.

They actively posted their propaganda on mainstream media like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The Social Media Index presents that those three social media platforms have the heaviest traffic every single day in the past year (see figure 1). Most of those platforms’ users are young people who love being connected virtually with their peers.


The traffic of the online publishing industry receives from social media every single day (9 February 2018 – 9 February 2019) (Source: http://www.socialmediaindex.co/)

Jane’s portrayed the online activities of the NPA when they posted contents including claim attacks, recruitment campaigns, live images of militant camps, and Maoist ideology propaganda. At least, 19 NPA commands using the online strategy as their blogging efforts and social-network purposes.


Philippines New People’s Army: Online Presence

Another example of their online strategy is the existence of website “Liberation” as the official publication of the NDF. It serves as a propaganda platform for the NDF by promoting the values of NDF’s struggles including the twelve points of the NDF program. Their ultimate goals are provoking people about their heroic commitment to the Filipino’s revolutionary struggle through people’s war. They fight for national liberation and absolute democracy. In the end, they enforce people to support them to overthrow the Duterte’s governance as they consider it ‘an oppressive and exploitative ruling system.


The negative propaganda about Duterte’s regime by LIBERATION’s website.

Some mislead, and confrontational information about Duterte was also served on the website including the efforts of twisting the fact of Duterte has been successfully conducting the rehabilitation process of Marawi.

Another example is some poster images of which people could easily access about reasons why the recent regime is isolated and hated by Filipino people, the negative campaigns about Duterte’s regime, and other published writings that inform the benefit of bolstering the NDF as a new hope for better Philippines.

Besides spreading provocative campaigns against Duterte’s presidential, the online website also provides information about some charismatic leaders’ profiles. By showcasing the heroic figures, the group desires to obtain more support from the community and also want all members to follow the former leaders and continue their fighting spirit to enforce the social revolutions. In the end, most of the narratives posted in the websites offered conversations about the justification of their philosophy and ideology as revolutionaries and not terrorists.

Furthermore, those massive online campaigns of the CPP-NPA-NDF were also found in the Twitter and Facebook arena. They actively created hashtags to ease people access and make it viral in social media networks. The youths could effortlessly highlight the hashtags like #FightTyranny, #StruggleAmidFascism, #OctoberRage, #JusticeForSagay9, or #StopKillingFarmers. The same narrative as provided on the website was also found on Twitter and Facebook.

Outlook: Developing a counter radical narrative strategy to delegitimize hateful accounts

Returning to the thesis statements posed at the beginning of this article, it is now possible to acknowledge that the advancement of technology impact significantly to the architecture of CPP-NPA-NDF strategy in general. The manifest of the internet in the organization is demonstrated mostly in the alteration of recruitment and propaganda efforts. Although they still apply offline mainstream, the vast growth of internet users drives them to develop innovations in the way of approaching and attracting millennial adolescents in the Philippines.

In general, the terrorist’s organization is concerned with modifying their recruitment and propaganda strategy by maximizing the use of online platforms to spread the radical narrative to the public. As done by IS-inspired groups, the CPP-NPA-NDF also improve their strategy by online.

It is identified that besides applying offline strategy like directly involved in teaching in the universities, they also now very actively engage with youth communities through the website, online discussion forum, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or even any online platforms like YouTube video accessed from Google browser.

Before designing strategic communication tools to counter the radical narratives promoted by insurgencies or terrorists like the CPP-NPA-NDF, it is deemed necessary for the policymakers examining the purpose of messaging done by the radicals.

All of the issues are about communication engagement with the audiences. Three ultimate intentions identified as their purpose in developing online propaganda and recruitment.

The first intention is about putting the radical narratives together which offer values and meanings to the conflict and ideas conversations. The second purpose is the efforts of polarizing the support and then shape the perceptions to notice the good deeds of the CPP-NPA-NDF which will bring the community into prosperity and justice.

Finally, after promoting those two issues, perhaps they are able to characterize the shared-identity to construct the solution for existing hurdles within the society.

There is a lot of communication approach discussing the resolutions of countering radical narratives.

However, three important principles are determined at the aimed of increasing the success level of public campaigns against radical accounts.

Firstly, the government should use diverse means and multimedia creatively to involve a wide audience. It assists the penetration of messaging and its repetition.

Secondly, the experts should be able to rationalize the grand narrative into creative language and also simultaneously transmit the moral values to boost the broader audience attention and encourage them emotionally.

The last, the best strategy to prevent the escalation of radical and hates narratives, the government should consider the concept of public-private partnership in communication strategies including supporting the counter-narratives program engaged with civil-society organizations that strengthen the social media content coverages to all levels of users.

Sylvia Windya L. is a Researcher and Ph. D. Candidate at National Security College, the Australian National University.

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