WHAT if you could work from a cozy cabin in the forest, where nature’s beauty and tranquility surround you? You could listen to the soothing sounds of birdsong and the breeze as you focus on your tasks. Imagine the possibilities: a cozy desk, a fast internet connection and a hot mug of coffee. Well, that’s my life now when I am at my coffee farm.

Thanks to Starlink, a satellite-based internet service, underserved regions can now enjoy high-speed broadband connections. This innovative technology has transformed my workspace. In the past, I had no choice but to rely on Globe or Smart mobile data tethered to a pocket Wi-Fi, which was far from ideal in the heart of the forest. Previously, sending this column required a trek to the windy side of the ridge, bundled in warm clothes or waking up at dawn.

Initially, I was unsure if Starlink would work in a forest-surrounded location. However, I stumbled upon a YouTube video titled “Will Starlink Work in a Forest?” by a content creator named ttthefineprinttt. His answer was a combination of “yes” and “no,” depending on the user’s intentions. He explained these speeds are excellent for remote work, uploading and downloading files, but might not be the best option for livestreaming, video calls or playing video games because of obstructions.

My home is situated across a meadow, surrounded by thick pine trees, so I ordered a 150-foot cable to reach a spot with fewer obstructions. Understanding the importance of having a clear view of the sky to connect to satellites, I used the Starlink app to check obstructions and identify the best location for the Starlink dish or “dishy.”

Starlink provides users with an estimated score, showing whether their view is obstructed and where the obstruction (north, south, west, or east) originates. Average obstruction scores for my dishy’s location ranged from 3 to 7 percent, with a Starlink notification to expect interruptions every 3 minutes.

After using Starlink for several days, I experienced 11 minutes of obstruction across 12 hours of use. Obstructions lasted 2 to 10 seconds, not significantly affecting my internet usage. Despite these limitations, browsing has become faster. I can even watch Netflix and YouTube videos without disruption, which never happened with a mobile data connection. My husband reported that the NBA app was working intermittently. FaceTime calls with my siblings would sometimes drop out, but they would always reconnect quickly. Such minor annoyance didn’t affect the overall quality of the service.

While using the built-in speed test app, results showed the Wi-Fi speed at 150-250 Mbps download and 16-49 Mbps upload. Latency can reach as high as 226 milliseconds (ms). Even the fast.com app, powered by Netflix, displays the same Wi-Fi speed range.

Wilson Chua, one of the founders of BASS (Bandwidth And Signal Strength monitoring tool), informed me that Starlink’s median speed is 17 Mbps as of April 24, 2023. The speed of Starlink is limited when it involves local content.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/ProjectBassApp/photos/a.183920585450436/1544396752736139/?type=3&mibextid=cr9u03

Chua explained that this speed is because the ground station is in Japan, and their Philippine station in Pampanga is not yet activated. Data reveals Starlink is much faster than Kacific Broadband Satellites Pte (7.5 Mbps). The median Wi-Fi speed surpasses that of Smart (15 Mbps), DITO (12 Mbps) and Globe (6 Mbps). Smart displays a median speed of 15 Mbps, but I don’t experience it here from the meadow. Only the mountain ridge or waking up at 4 a.m. allows me to experience Smart’s median speed.

BASS (projectbass.org) aims to compile actionable data that will be used to improve the state of local internet quality in the Philippines. Some Starlink users from as far as Batanes to Tawi-Tawi provide data to the BASS app.

To accurately represent the Starlink speed, a higher number of records are needed. The BASS app is a free app that can be downloaded from their website, and measures your Starlink or carrier’s bandwidth and signal strength.

Considering the limitations and occasional obstructions, the overall improvement in internet accessibility has been nothing short of remarkable. This groundbreaking solution holds the promise of dramatically improving the lives of many people living in rural areas by offering them dependable internet connections and a wealth of opportunities.

First published at The Manila Times, April 30, 2023.

Being a mother to young children in the mid-1990s, I witnessed how the internet could be a powerful tool for my children to connect, explore, learn and engage in creative and empowering ways. The United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child in General Comment 25, adopted in 2021, emphasized the importance of the digital environment to children’s lives and rights. Spending time online, as stressed in the General Comment, brings unacceptable risks and threats of harm, some of which children also come across in other environments and some of which are unique to the online situation.

In 2020, about 2 million children in the Philippines were exposed to content that was inappropriate. The report “Disrupting harm in the Philippines: Evidence on online child sexual exploitation and abuse” indicated that 1 in 5 children in the Philippines ages 12 to 17 encountered child sexual abuse material while using the internet.

According to Disrupting Harm household survey data, 20 percent of internet-using children ages 12 to 17 in the Philippines were victims of grave instances of online sexual exploitation and abuse. Such abuse consists of being “blackmailed to engage in sexual activities, someone sharing their sexual images without permission, or being coerced to engage in sexual activities through promises of money or gifts.” Children were most commonly subjected to Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children via social media. Online child sexual exploitation and abuse (Ocsea) “refers to situations involving digital, internet and communication technologies at some point during the continuum of abuse or exploitation. Ocsea could occur fully online or through a mix of online and in-person interactions between offenders and children.”

Several promising awareness-raising initiatives in the Philippines touch on Ocsea, such as #BeCyberSafe by the Department of Education; the Child Protection Seminar initiative with internet café and computer shop owners, or the annual Safer Internet Day, among others. The report added that “these initiatives reflect a commitment by the Philippines Government and other stakeholders to improve the visibility of these crimes against children.

However, comprehensive evaluations of these campaigns are needed to measure their effectiveness.” One stakeholder is the partnership of Palo Alto Networks (Nasdaq: PANW), the global cybersecurity leader, with PLDT Inc. and its wireless unit, Smart Communications Inc. The objective is to strengthen the two telcos’ Child Protection Platform and enable a safer online experience for children. Over 1 billion attempts to access URLs with child sexual abuse material (CSAM) have been blocked by the platform since November 2021. Their Child Protection Platform is a cybersecurity solution developed to address the CSAM problems by blocking illegal traffic at the content level, which then restricts access to CSAMs that have found their way into legitimate domains. Palo Alto Network Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs) and Cloud-Delivered Security Services including Threat Prevention, Advanced URL Filtering and WildFire scrutinize the content and convert URLs for redirection if CSAM-related traffic is found.

PLDT and Smart have also joined peers and other stakeholders from the private and government sectors in calling for the immediate passage of the Anti-OSAEC bill. The proposed law would institutionalize the taking down of websites that stream or host CSAM, as well as impose stiffer penalties against parties involved in child abuse cases.

Meanwhile, caregivers, teachers and social support services should be proactive. Understand what their children are doing both online and offline. Among children who experienced Ocsea on social media, the most common platforms took place on Facebook or Facebook Messenger, accounting for over 90 percent of cases. To a much lesser degree, other platforms cited were TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Among the insights presented, is to foster safe and ongoing communication between children and trusted adults about their lives online. Another is to ensure that responses to disclosures of Ocsea always convey that it is never the child’s fault, whatever choices they have made. Most of all, children should be informed about their right to be protected from all forms of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and exploitation.

The report “Disrupting harm in the Philippines: Evidence on online child sexual exploitation and abuse,” published by the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, Ecpat, Interpol and Unicef (2022), can be downloaded from https://www.end-violence.org/sites/default/files/2022-04/DH_Philippines_ONLINE_FINAL.pdf

First published at theo. August 7, 2022

I have a confession to make. In 2016, Ayoko Kay leni Robredo because Dilawan siya. But I got to interview her with my fellow bloggers for almost 2 hours . In our interview she said she had plans for anti poverty program.

At ginawa talaga niya. Angat Buhay started in October 2016. Mas lalo ako bilib sa kanya.

Angat Buhay is her anti poverty program under the Office of the Vice President.

As of December 2021, the OVP, through Angat Buhay, has partnered with 372 organizations mobilizing a total of P520 million worth of resources to assist 321,001 families and 305,223 individuals in 223 communities nationwide.

Some of the projects under the program are the Angat Buhay villages in Bicol and Marawi, medical assistance, and the construction of health centers and classrooms, among others. Imagine if she is president. She will make ANGAT Buhay lahat even bigger.

Two out of many reasons “Why Leni”. If president , she will push for a bill for a P100 billion stimulus package for MSMEs to help rebuild our economy while also making sure people don’t lose their jobs. Meron din balak ng Unemployment Insurance Program where you will get 80% of 3 months worth of their previous salary . This is what I will campaign when asked about her concrete plans.

Marami nag sabi wala siyang ginawa. I only knew of her achievements last year. Hindi siya epal. Her weakness and strength is she didn’t want to publicize her achievements. At that time, she had no intentions to run for President. She just kept on working.

These are her achievements

1. P503 Million COVID-19 Response.
2. P58.84 Million Testing Kits.
3. P64.70 Million PPES.
4. P43.98 Million Dormitories for Frontliners.
5. P35.60 Million Disaster Relief Operations.
6. P20.43 Million Gadgets for students.
7. P17.28 Million locally funded projects.
8. P14 Million Hot meals for Health workers.
9. P2.5 Million support towards employees exposed to COVID-10.
10. P1.4 Million Hazard Pay for regular employees.
11. P817,000 Hazard Pay for the contract of service employees.
12. P249,500 Hazard Pay for contractual employees.
13. 23,345 Frontliners served through Vaccine Express, Cab Swab, Free Shuttle.
14. Community Mart sa Quezon City at Pasig para sa mga small-time market vendors
at tricycle drivers na naapektuhan ng pandemya.
15. Vaccine Express initiative that inoculated 500 Aetas in Barangay Sta. Juliana.
16. Leni backed the passage into law of the Unemployment Insurance Bill that will create an unemployment insurance system to protect Filipinos who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

17. P12.3 Billion total value of given help to families.
18. P42.17 Million worth of help given to communities.
19. P12.80 Million contribution towards transitory shelters and shelter kits for Marawi
20. P207,244 or 1,022 individuals given relief ops.
21. P23.86 Million from the VP fund was shelled out for the victims of the Taal
Volcano, Typhoon Quinta, Super Typhoon Rolly, and Typhoon Ulysses.
22. P8.841 Million donations were collected for the Taal eruption.
23. P2.360 Million donations were collected for Typhoons.
24. 12,489 families’ homes were repaired due to disaster-related damages.
25. 92,600 Light Bulbs given to homes in Metro Manila.
26. 3,776+ Households have been given electricity through the OVP’s Angat Buhay.
27. Assistance to at least 11 towns in Batangas, 1 in Cavite after the volcanic eruption, reaching at least 22.047 families in the two provinces.
28. 87 municipalities across 11 provinces were given aid that reached at least 56,148 families after the typhoons.
29. The OVP turned over pet supplies donated by different organizations to the
Philippine Animal Rescue Team. This is to help in taking care of around 600 animals.
30. Leni has proposed the construction of stronger evacuation centers that not only
will withstand natural calamities but will also accommodate pets and livestock.
31. Leni wants to strengthen the rescue capabilities of barangay officials.
32. In 2020, Leni together with the OVP’s partner-agencies provided boats for Aurora fisherfolk affected by typhoons.
33. After the Typhoon Ulysses calamity, Leni says that climate change should be taken seriously.
34. Leni recognizes that there is a “global climate emergency,” and values conversations on the issue. She supports instructional changes towards fossil fuel

35. Leni was a practicing lawyer who focused on cases involving the marginalized sector.
36. P441.14 Million worth of resources mobilized through the OVP’s Angat Buhay with 330 partnered organizations.
37.341,779 families helped or 221,122 individuals in 381 communities nationwide
through the OVP’s Angat Buhay.
38. P8.93 Million worth of projects, farm inputs, livestock, development and training
wherein 127 individuals and 18 accredited Civil Society Organizations were assisted.

39. P122.96 Million worth of Educational infrastructure built.
40. P8.27 Million worth of School kits.
41. P4.49 Million worth of Scholarships and technical training.
42. P19.75 Million appraised value of gadgets and items raised via Kaya Natin donation drive for Bayanihan E-skwela, Community learning hubs, instructional videos for
teachers and parents.
43. Leni wants SPED centers in all public schools.
44. Noong siya ay Housing Chief, she pushed to build communities that are friendly to persons with disabilities.
45. The OVP partnered with USAID and PBEd to provide free technical-vocational skills and employability training for over 1,000 unemployed and out-of-school Filipino youth.

46. Principal Author of HB 19 or the Full Disclosure Bill.
47. Principal Author of HB 3905 or the Participatory Budget Process Bill.
48. Principal Author of HB 4911 or the People Empowerment Bill.
49. Co-author of HB 3432 or the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Bill.
50. Co-author of HB 3587 or the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill.

It has nothing to do with age. I was in my early 60s when I embarked on my journey as a coffee producer. Knowing nothing about coffee production , I was able to overcome my insecurities by just doing it. It’s never too late to start something out of your comfort zone.

Women have long fought for equality and while the road has often been filled with ups and downs, stories of women finding strength within themselves and using it to help other women find theirs has always been at the forefront of the journey towards women empowerment.

This Women’s Month, YouTube celebrated women content creators who were able to break the bias and chart their own journeys of equality in an online event titled Breaking the Bias: Online and beyond on March 30.

“The theme for this year’s Women’s Month is ‘Break The Bias’ which resonates so much with me. I myself experienced this. I felt that I had to break the biases that are attached to being a woman back in the day when I was just starting in the tech industry,” said Bernadette Nacario, Google Philippines Country Director.

“I believe that in order for us to break the bias, one of the steps we have to take is to  ‘Ask Her First’. The simple habit of asking, rather than assuming, can lead more women to realizing their full potential and succeeding in what they choose to do,” Nacario added. 

Hosted by Nikki Gil-Albert, the event highlighted the challenges women face–from body-shaming to dealing with disabilities–how they rose above it and how they encourage others to do the same.

Breaking biases online and offline

“Growing up, the beauty standard was all about being sexy and in order to be sexy, you needed to go on a diet. As a plus-size woman, I did not fit those standards,” said Helen Payawal of Helen On Fleek.

Helen On Fleek

Helen is a beauty and lifestyle content creator who runs her own clothing and swimwear line. When she became a content creator, she revealed that she often came across comments about her size and how “it’s embarrassing” seeing a person like her wearing swimsuits.

That didn’t stop her from doing what she loves–vlogging and traveling–and if that didn’t stop her, her “curvybabes” shouldn’t either.

“A lot of us felt insecure growing up. But there’s this one quote that a friend shared to me that I will never forget — ‘Be someone who you needed when you were younger,’” she said. “I want to be someone who can inspire my fellow plus-size women that once you get over the shyness and what people would think about you because you are different, you will be limitless. At the end of the day, it’s your happiness that matters.”

For Jozelle Tech, a content creator and CEO of her own brand creative consulting firm The Rolling Media, living as a differently-abled person sometimes has challenges beyond the disability itself. 

“Living as a physically-challenged person, people are prone to assumptions: that I would need help or that I won’t be able to do certain things,” Jozelle said.

Jozelle Tech

Jozelle was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and uses a wheelchair to move around. This has led to many instances of people talking over her or asking her companion about her instead of directly asking her.

“They think I can’t handle the conversation on my own. The crazy thing about this is I’m right in front of them,” she explained. “By approaching my companion first, I’d feel like you see me as someone unequal or incapable.”

“This is why it’s very important to educate people about the right approach or way of asking questions. Sometimes comments like ‘can you do that’ can do more harm than good,” Nikki pointed out.

This is why Jozelle, through her YouTube channel, seeks not only to inspire others like her into following their passions but also helping people to change how they treat differently-abled people.

Building a world of strong, confident women

As a Muslim Filipina, Egypa Balindong felt that while being a woman is struggle enough, being a young Muslim woman and a minority is an even bigger struggle.

“People will always question your talent, capacity, and credibility and they will discredit your achievements just because you’re a woman,” Egypa said.

She was able to turn these challenges into opportunities as the filmmaker used her YouTube channel to show her life as a Maranao, as a Muslim, and most of all, as an empowered woman.

Egypa Balindong

“I had to be brave enough to educate people about my culture and religion. By simply sharing my daily life with my friends and family, I was able to make people see that we are not different,” she said.

The world has come a long way but there is still more that needs to be done, especially when it comes to creating a world where women are empowered.

Mothers like Arra Solis (Rookie Mommy PHplay a major role in that regard. As mother to her young daughter and as a businesswoman, she has taken it upon herself to set an example that a woman can do anything she sets her mind on doing.

Before being a work-from-home mom and entrepreneur, Arra used to have a regular office job. She recalled that one of the difficulties she faced was being passed over when it comes to leadership positions or having decisions made for her.

“I was never really asked first if I wanted to do something or if I’m able to do it. This is when I learned to speak up and have people listen,” she explained before adding that she wishes her daughter would grow up in a world where such challenges are no more.

“I’m hoping that we get to a place where gender, skin color, religion, etc will not hinder her from getting the career path she wanted, may it be to take on a leadership role in a company or to start a business,” she added.

Learn more about how to #AskHerFist and #BreakTheBias to create a more inclusive place for women. Listen to their stories on the Google Philippines YouTube and Facebook pages. 

I never imagined dabbling in video production much less being a program participant of the YouTube Creator Program for Independent Journalists. I just arrived in my hospital room after an angiogram procedure on July 15 when I checked my emails with my left hand. My cardiologist told me that I shouldn’t move my right hand until I got the clearance.

I thought, “wow, they had to inform me I didn’t get accepted”. I applied two days before the deadline, and went through an interview and heard nothing since June. I really thought I was not accepted so why was the email congratulating me. It was the second good news within one hour. First, the angiogram showed I had no blockage in my heart. Second, this news saying I am IN . Though I have a YouTube channel for 14 years now, I never made any effort to create interesting videos. I concentrated mostly on short form and long form written content. All of my videos were raw files from my coverage. Also, for the past four years, I concentrated on being a budding coffee producer. In fact, I started creating videos of our Agnep coffee farm but not for social issues.

Listen to my podcast:

I couldn’t tell the good news until a blog post was released on August 5 entitled “Supporting the news industry and next-generation journalists on YouTube”

Imagine my surprise! Part of announcement :

We’re excited to announce today the selection of nearly 50 independent journalists and over 40 digital-first newsrooms across the programs. Our Creator Program for Independent Journalists aims to give the growing number of reporters publishing independently the tools needed to succeed on YouTube. And the Sustainability Lab for Digital-First Newsrooms provides support for digital native newsrooms to start and expand their video operations.

While I am happy to be one of the 50 participants, I am disappointed to be the only one in the Philippines. It would have been fun to learn from each other. Still, I am grateful to learn from my cohorts. Training started on basic video production. More will come during the year.

YouTube said that “over the course of the next year, we’ll offer journalists in the Creator Program training in industry best practices, including comprehensive sessions on video production and editing, audience development, entrepreneurship, and achieving financial sustainability on the platform. Participants will receive grants to help fuel their new video operations.”

So I am thinking of my content for the years to come. Developing a social media campaign requires a lot of thought, time and effort, especially in human rights work and social advocacy. Underrepresented stories I have covered are the victims of extrajudicial killings and the harassment of indigenous communities. The needs of our farmers, laborers and the marginalized sectors are issues I have covered and continue to write. Let me know if there are urgent issues I need to cover.

If you have been a regular visitor of my blog for the past 15 years, you would have known my journey. This latest gig is another chapter of my new normal in honor of my beloved son who made sure I had some mission to fulfill in this mortal world. This is my journey

Last year, I wrote about “Social Media and Suicide.” The World Health Organization (WHO) states that close to 800,000 people kill themselves every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Suicide among young people is increasing, and social media is pointed out as the cause due to documented research.

Research findings published in the medical journal JAMA on July 2019 found that “adolescents are of particular concern.“ Increase in screen time have been found to be associated with increases in depressive symptoms. More evidence also points out to social media use. The 2012 study on “Social Media and Suicide: A Public Health Perspective” (David D. Luxton, PhD, Jennifer D. June, BA, and Jonathan M. Fairall, BS) cited the role social media might have in suicide-related behavior. The rise of pro-suicide, social media sites may pose a new risk to vulnerable people who might not have been exposed to these potential hazards. Media also plays an influence on suicidal behavior and suicide methods used. Cyberbullying and cyber harassment are prevalent problems. An increase in publicized cases of suicide in 2011 involved social media.

Another paper came out, “Increases in Depressive Symptoms, Suicide-Related Outcomes, and Suicide Rates Among US Adolescents After 2010 and Links to Increased New Media Screen Time” (Jean M. Twenge, Thomas E. Joiner, Megan L. Rogers, Gabrielle N. Martin), in 2017. The study discovered that adolescents who devoted more time online were more likely to report mental health issues. Psychiatrist Dr. Dinah Nadera said “that sense of lack of social connectedness is very, very prevalent…. They’re connected, but they couldn’t seem to have a trusted person.”

The relationship between social media use and depression remains a controversial topic. A study in 2018 by San Francisco-based social innovation group called HopeLab did not find a correlation between use and self-reported depressive symptoms. Despite the lack of conclusive studies, I couldn’t stress enough that our digital well-being matters. It is best to disconnect when called for and create healthy habits for our family.

Suicide prevention is everybody’s business. Educate our community that suicide is a preventable public health problem in the Philippines. Suicide should no longer be considered a taboo topic, and that through raising awareness and educating the public, we could SAVE lives.

To prevent suicides, the whole community from the school, family, church, government, netizens and media are involved. WHO said responsible reporting of suicide in the media to decrease suicide rates. Responsible reporting include: avoiding detailed descriptions of suicidal acts, avoiding sensationalism and glamorization, using responsible language, minimizing the prominence of suicide reports, avoiding oversimplifications, educating the public about suicide and treatments, and providing information on where to seek help.  Every person, as a part of that community, need to take responsibility.

The Lancet published research on “What Works in Youth Suicide Prevention?” and the review identified many studies testing a broad range of interventions across multiple settings, which could reduce the frequency of self-harm and suicidal ideation, “although it is likely the size of these studies that is driving the effects.”

The question is are Facebook, Twitter and Google, the most popular platforms doing enough to prevent suicide?

Facebook announced during World Suicide Day on Sept. 10, 2019 that it is taking steps to fight the youth suicide epidemic, including sharing data about how its users talk about suicide and self-harm and hiring a safety policy manager focusing on health and well-being. Some changes in policy is Facebook’s decision to “no longer allow graphic cutting images.” Even Instagram which they own would also make “it harder to search for this type of content and [keep] it from being recommended in Explore.” Whether you’re worried about someone you know or you’re struggling on your own, Facebook provided a Suicide Prevention Page (http://facebook.com/safety/wellbeing/suicideprevention).

In Google’s Suicide Prevention page (https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2802245?hl=en), content that promotes self-harm or is intended to shock or disgust users is not allowed on YouTube. Google allows users to post content discussing their experiences with depression, self-harm, or other mental health issues. Instagram also has a page on those who spot content about suicide or self-injury (https://help.instagram.com/388741744585878 ). Twitter’s approach to self-harm and suicide threats is explained in their “About self-harm and suicide” (https://help.twitter.com/en/safety-and-security/self-harm-and-suicide). After Twitter assesses a report of self-harm or suicide, they will “contact the reported user and let him or her know that someone who cares about them identified that they might be at risk.” Twitter would also provide the reported user with available online and hotline resources and encourage them to seek help.

One couldn’t just rely on social media platforms to moderate the content. Let’s take time to understand the social media platforms and potential warning signs or indicators for self-harm or suicide.

First published at the Sunday Business & IT, Manila Times on October 6, 2019.

The recent surge in “Facebook clones” or dummy accounts or fake Facebook profile pages caused alarm among many netizens, including my friends and family members. Imagine, my husband had to report five blank and duplicate Facebook profiles that were “pretending to be me.” As of this writing, Facebook removed only one of my three clone accounts.

National Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro said it was too early to establish the cause of the sudden proliferation of the fraudulent Facebook accounts because of an internal glitch or by external factors.

The activists arrested at the peaceful protest held at the University of the Philippines Cebu campus were the first to mention that their accounts were “duplicated”. Netizens voiced out their concerns over these fake profiles using the hashtag #HandsOffOurStudents. Other reports pointed out the targets of the spoofing attacks were outspoken of the Anti-Terror Bill of 2020, but even pro-administration netizens claimed they were victims, too.

Jonathan Ong, who co-authored several studies on local troll armies, believes fake Facebook accounts’ creation could be a ploy to gain access to people’s data and information. Ong mentioned in his interview with the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) that “the creation of dummy accounts was widely used in the 2016 National Elections, but Facebook has since made it harder to create these accounts, causing disinformation campaigners to abandon the tactic.” It puzzles him why this happened. “It might be around control of people’s data, that’s what’s more concerning for me,” he told ANC. The organizations or people behind the sudden surge of fake Facebook profiles could be showing off that they have access to people’s data and information.

Lawyer JJ Disini, an expert on IT law, shared the dangers of a fake Facebook profile. When a target is identified, a fake Facebook profile is created with the same name as the former.  At the right time, the fake profile page would be made to appear identical. Disini warns that the user’s photo and banner of the real account could be copied and pasted.  A target could be locked out of his legitimate Facebook page by filing bogus complaints against the target with Facebook. While the target is locked out of his page, a post is created on the fake page where target commits a crime, for example, a threat on the life of the country’s president. The next likely scenario would involve taking a screenshot of the fake account with the incriminating post, then followed by deleting the fake page. Charging the target with a crime based on the screen shot could follow next. I don’t know if we could use the screenshot as evidence. When I filed a complaint against Facebook on the Cambridge Analytica data breach, the National Privacy Commission asked for the link to my Facebook post exposing the breach.

What could you do to protect your identity on Facebook? Ensure your Facebook account is secure. Enable the Two-Factor Authentication. If you are using a pseudonym or nickname, enter your birth name as optional information (under Settings, Personal Information, Name, Other Names) in your Facebook account. You could add your nickname and birth name. Under the Settings, Personal Information, you could submit proof of identity under “Identify Confirmation” as another layer of security. If you run ads about social issues, elections or politics, Facebook might ask you to provide proof of your identity. I complied with the “Identify Confirmation” because I handle many Facebook pages. All this precaution might not be a guarantee that your page won’t get disabled from a malicious takedown.

I also suggest documentation of your Facebook clones. Aside from screen shots, get the links and keep them on file. The open-source web app, http://doppelbanger.now.sh could search duplicate fake accounts on Facebook. Not all are fake, though. The results on Facebook Search revealed I had three clones. Using this web app showed five more.

Publish your social networks in your blog or LinkedIN so people would know where to search for you instead of using Facebook Search. Continue to write content that shows your “personal branding,” or how you want to establish and promote what you stand for.

While we continue to demand answers from Facebook and investigators, let’s secure and protect our personal data and privacy.

First published Sunday Business & IT, June 14, 2020.

Virtual reality (VR) reports surfaced in my newsfeed after lockdowns took place around the world. Bloomberg’s April 21 article, “Zoom parties are so five weeks ago: Hello virtual reality,” grabbed my attention. Oh yes, whatever happened to my Oculus Go? This standalone VR headset, which I purchased in 2018, gathered dust already because reality kept me away. As community quarantine is now the new normal, I explored video conferencing apps, including social virtual reality, to cope with this work from home situation. After inviting my sisters over to my Oculus Room, I found out Facebook removed this interactive space for friends to hangout. I missed the Oculus Rooms, because it was my home in virtual reality. In this space, I invited Facebook friends, customized my room with photos, watched movies, played games like riding the rollercoaster together, or listening to music and so much more. Horizon would replace Oculus Rooms, but there is no set date for its release.

My sisters and I in virtual reality using vTime and our Oculus Go Headsets

In my quest for social VR alternatives, I explored AltSpace VR and vTime XR. The vTime XR provided amazing destinations and better-looking avatars. My sisters and I unpacked our dusty Oculus Go headsets and traveled to many locations. In virtual space, the avatar representation with the audio gave the impression of having my sisters right beside and in front of me. Each destination could only seat four and since we are four sisters, we could chat virtually at unique places together — sunset at the beach, zen garden, under the sea, space station, TV studio or the edge of a mountain — not for agoraphobes, believe me!
At the terrace of a Parisian apartment overlooking the Eiffel Tower, we chuckled at each other’s fashion statement. We promised each other that every time we meet, we would diversify our fashion choices. The vTime likes to think of itself as a “sociable” network, rather than a social network. Users without a VR headset could join sessions via “Magic Window” mode on Android and iOS phones. As a cross platform, all user avatars support audio lip syncing and avatar eye tracking. One could use the network’s library of virtual emojis “vMotes” allowing users to express themselves. Not enough time to get addicted with Oculus Go because the headset defaults into shutting down after two hours. A friend who only used her headset after getting it as a present a year ago, squealed with delight as she discovered emotional escape not only in social VR, but in a VR immersive fishing game. “It’s nice for after work and I just want to chill out,” she explained. Nature trips and travel to countries around the world in VR is compelling in a time when this unprecedented period of community quarantine deprives us of the outside world. VR cannot replace the outdoors, but it could ferry us away briefly from the boredom of a lockdown. Frontiers in Psychology published a paper on Jan. 15, 2020 and posed the question: “Could simulated nature support mental health?” The study concluded that “nature exposure in virtual reality could provide emotional well-being benefits for people who cannot access the outdoors. Six minutes of nature exposure in mobile VR headsets produced similar effects as six minutes of outdoor nature exposure.” Both conditions were superior to sitting indoors with no exposure to nature. It is interesting to note that “short and isolated exposure to a 360-degree video of nature may provide an emotionally beneficial alternative to visits to outdoor nature in healthy student populations who might not otherwise access restorative outdoor environments.” No wonder I felt great after a session. Even if you don’t have a VR headset, that shouldn’t stop you from a virtual experience. Though my VR experience is only with the Oculus Go and the Oculus Rift, the former is affordable and easier to use. VR headsets fit under one of three categories: mobile, tethered or standalone. Standalone headsets other than my Oculus Go are the Oculus Quest, Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream, HTC Vive Focus and Vive Focus Plus. Google Daydream, Nintendo Labo VR Kit and the Qualcomm-compatible XR viewers are some of the mobile headsets. Tethered headsets like Oculus Rift S, HTC Vive and Vive Cosmos, Sony PlayStation VR, Windows Mixed Reality and Valve Index present the most immersive experience but could be pricey and clunky. The easiest way to watch VR is with a smartphone like I mentioned with the vTime social VR. One could still enjoy a VR Light experience by checking out selections of 360 and VR180 videos on YouTube or even Facebook 360 videos. Entry level Google Cardboard puts virtual reality on your Android and iPhone. Download the app and get a Google Cardboard viewer on Lazada or Shopee. VR as the platform of tomorrow is still a niche market, but this global pandemic might just push its widespread use. First published in Hello, Virtual Reality at Sunday Business & IT, May 17, 2020

Going out of our homes is challenging these days, especially for those without transportation. Other places observe enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) that limits movement outside their homes. But with the crisis lie opportunities for enterprising Filipinos, who filled in the needs of people while making money at the same time. Shopping for necessities is very convenient for those with access to a community group on Facebook or Viber. It’s a win-win situation for all of us as we struggle to cope with our “new normal.”

My husband and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary a few days ago and I wanted it to be extra special. How do I now order a cake?  Booking from GrabFood or Lalamove often failed me at the start of the Luzon lockdown, so I ditched that alternative. Viber and Facebook Marketplaces sold goods or offered services, but delivery costs were not worth it if the items cost less than one thousand pesos.  I turned to my village community group on Facebook.  Settings set to private and a threaded conversation allows ease of use. Over 4,000 members comprise our village marketplace. Vendors or personal shoppers from adjacent villages joined to add to the diversity of products and services. One of them could deliver cakes from a well-known bakery. I realized that the enterprising neighbor adds on a service fee, but that’s fine with me.  Helping a neighbor is helping my community. And it helped that the cake made my husband smile.


For the past six weeks, I purchased two electric fans, a prepaid Wi-Fi for backup, pork, fish, vegetables, chicken, neoprene face masks, face shields, kimchi and many more. The value-added benefit of our village marketplace is that they bring most items to the house without additional costs.  I am impressed at the items sold such as prepared meals, home-baked bread, kakanin, lumpia, fruits and snacks. Someone sells shrimp, Korean food, pet food and even rubbing alcohol. Another provides cleaning services for air conditioning units and even plumbing services.  “Pabili” services (errand services such as “Buy/get this for me and deliver to me, please!”) are thriving in my community marketplace. Examples are pa-grocery, pabayad bills and pabili (errands such as grocery shopping, bill payments and buying something.) How helpful to our senior citizens or those who don’t have a ride. I ordered from a neighbor who collects pizza orders and delivers them on cash on a delivery basis. An advantage of a Facebook community group is that the honor system works. If a buyer or seller doesn’t fulfill his promise, the entire group would know about it (without mentioning names). Everyone strives to be a good neighbor.

Buy or sell new and used items are on the Facebook Marketplace. A friend got a few products from there and the sellers she encountered are reliable. “You could check their profiles to see if they’re legit. You could also report erring sellers/buyers to Facebook. It’s also location specific, which is a useful way to narrow your search,” she said. I limited my search to a 5-kilometer radius when I canvassed for an LED TV. Getting quotations from five sellers helped me narrow down my choice. The problem was that our security guards refused entry because it is not an essential item or service. I had to drive outside the guard house to pick up my order.

Over 7,500 members are at the Pasig Residents’ Viber Marketplace, where I browse for things I might need. Scrolling through so many posts is tiring. One tip to backread posts is to look for the media library and check out the posted infographics.  The admin created an excel sheet that categorized food, drinks, donation, grocery, health, hotlines, LPG, market and others. The only time I used this marketplace was when I bought vitamin C with zinc capsules from an online pharmacy in Manila. Most of the drugstores ran out of stock, and this one could send through a courier where I had to shoulder the P240 delivery cost. The question is, how reliable are these sellers? The best recourse is to communicate with the vendor and canvass other sources. Know your product and weigh opportunity costs.

Friends have used Lazada and Carousell for their shopping essentials, but I have yet to purchase from these platforms. I still prefer the village marketplace because this is my community sharing resources. The community is not just a group of people living in one place. Neighbors help each other. I want to help the mothers who comprise a bulk of the sellers. Entrepreneurship may not be for everyone but, perhaps some mothers could harness the power of technology to seek innovative ways to augment household income. Many are out there searching for great deals and a variety of products. Imagine the possibilities of the market.

Happy Mother’s Day.

First published in Sunday Business & IT, May 10, 2020

I received an email invitation for my sister’s birthday party with an instruction that each one should bring a cake. The catch is that all four siblings would carry each cake with a lighted candle as we sing “Happy Birthday” over Zoom, a videoconferencing service.
Customizing my virtual background to a cheerful “Happy Birthday” graphic not only brightened the celebration but also covered up the clutter behind my back.

For two hours, we laughed and cheered on each other, wondering how long we would have to stay at home. Sharing tips was a breeze with the “share screen” feature. A sister showed off a YouTube video on her laptop of an exercise that entails just walking around the house.
Sure, we might just be behind our laptops or mobile phones in virtual space, but the memorable celebration lifted our spirits. Life goes on as we attempt to gain a sense of normalcy, and try to get innovative with our social lives.

Nearly overnight, the coronavirus pandemic transformed everything about the way people are supposed to interact. Last week, the World Health Organization changed the phrase “social distancing” to recommend “physical distancing,” encouraging people to stay connected via social media. Physical distancing is the key, not social distancing. Now more than ever, we need to collaborate, be connected with each other and care for one another.

Adjusting to the self-isolation and remote working, including hearing news of coronavirus cases could bring anxiety, helplessness, anger or sadness.  People want the face-to-face contact to affirm that we would be all right as long as we take care of ourselves.

Remote working apps and platforms gained a huge traction because of the work-at-home arrangement. Zoom is now the talk of the town as more self-quarantined individuals discovered that it could be more than a venue for videoconferencing, online meetings, chat and collaboration. One could “hang out” after a virtual meeting.

Though Zoom is free to use, I purchased the $14.95 (about P762)-plan for a longer meeting time for three or more persons. Zoom’s free version allows up to 100 people to join a video meeting together for up to 40 minutes and unlimited one-to-one meetings. Who wouldn’t want to extend the time to be together?

My husband hosted a Zoom meeting with his staff to see if they would like to meet online other than just chat on their Viber group. I helped him navigate through the “New Meeting” menu and copied the invite URL and shared to their group chat.  But first, participants needed to download the Zoom Cloud Meetings app.  Registration is optional if settings don’t require it. Even if you don’t need a Zoom account to join a meeting, you might as well register so you could also host your own virtual meeting. With an invite link, it connects the participant to the Zoom meeting through the app. The cheerful chatter and smiles of the over 20 people continued on long after the meeting was over.  As a host, you could assign the host controls to another user and leave the meeting. If the original host is a licensed user, the meeting continues on for an unlimited time, even if the new host is a free or basic user.

If you look for “Zoom coronavirus” online, the search engine results lead you to several news articles on its use outside remote business meetings and online coursework. A concert of performing artists, a Frozen-themed birthday party, friends marrying are happening on Zoom. Aside from parties, people have tuned in to church services, meditation or art shows. They call themselves the “Zoomers.” College students in the United States are going on Zoom blind dates. Even the House of Representatives used Zoom for a special session to deliberate the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act.

For sure, there are other video conferencing apps like Google Hangouts Meet, GoToMeeting, Skype and Microsoft Teams. Video chat apps on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber and many more work, too. But why Zoom?

“Zoom is known for its reliability, avoiding long outages that discourage repeated use, and it doesn’t have the latency that makes some services painful for extended conversations” says Jordan Novet of CNBC. Most of all, Zoomers, like myself, find it simple and easy to use. Excuse me, as I zoom in to another virtual party.

First published on Sunday Business & IT, March 29, 2020