Being Right


The Philippine military did the right thing in recently banning TikTok for its service personnel: “In AFP, the use of TikTok has been banned already. So we are not allowed to use TikTok. For one, because it’s an application made by China but is not used by China. So that in itself, we say go figure,” so says Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Francel Padilla.

She later went on to clarify that this does not cover service personnel’s off-duty hours and yet “troops must also not post content on TikTok that would compromise their camps’ security,” while at the same time pointing out that the “AFP does not authorize TikTok on devices connected to the military network as personnel are prohibited from compromising the communication and physical security of their installations. ‘What we prohibit specifically are devices connected to the military network’” (a report from the Manila Standard, February 2024).

The AFP ban should really be replicated nationwide. Or at least for all government personnel and not only those of the security services (a recommendation proffered last year by National Security Council Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya). As was pointed out here (“TikTok is not only annoying. It’s much worse than that,” February 2023), quoting a story from Science Times, April 2022: “‘TikTok brain is a real thing.’ Merely viewing a ‘90-second video clip from the mobile app causes problems in the collective attention span of a person. Now, experts are looking into its effects on kids’ brains using TikTok.’”

Ultimately, TikTok is a drug dealer and the drug is dopamine. And right now, 44.4 million Filipinos (with a staggering 67.9% of Filipinos aged between 16-64) are potential addicts. “The app features short videos of lip-synched songs, acting, dances and memes of various sorts. At first glance, TikTok seems like a harmless platform for sharing content and meeting new people. However, this application is a dopamine factory,” says a story on The Gauntlet (“TikTok is a dopamine factory,” February 2021).

“TikTok takes advantage of this pattern of behavior. Users receive a constant stream of new videos — a dopamine stimulation — every 15 seconds to one minute. In a Forbes article, Dr. Julie Albright, a sociologist specializing in digital culture and communication, mentioned that TikTok users find themselves ‘in this pleasurable dopamine state, carried away. It’s almost hypnotic, you’ll keep watching and watching’,” it continues.

The foregoing must be read in conjunction with the fact that the region’s obnoxious bully — China — has blatantly conducted anti-Filipino propaganda openly online. Mr. Malaya himself noted this in a 2023 interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). “We’ve presumed there was a Chinese information operation [in the Philippines]. They operate everywhere in the world. But we started really being alarmed when we saw that there were Filipinos who were parroting the Chinese narrative,” he said. However, it was only last year that the National Security Council (NSC) “publicly recognized the existence of China’s ‘operators’ or ‘proxies’ undermining the country’s claims in the West Philippine Sea. (“Philippines confronts unlikely adversary in SCS row: Filipinos echoing ‘pro-Beijing’ narratives,” PCIJ, October 2023).

And make no mistake, at least in the theater of cyber-warfare, the country right now is locked in an overt and intense struggle against China: “Notably, the country is a prime target for cyber espionage activities conducted by nations like China, North Korea, and Russia. The looming potential conflict over Taiwan adds an element of unpredictability to the regional security landscape, with cyber-warfare being a significant concern.

Recent trends indicate a surge in ransomware attacks within the Philippines, with sectors like finance, government, healthcare, education, and retail being primary targets, with — more disturbingly — “a major data breach expos[ing] the personal information of millions of Filipinos, including records from crucial institutions like the Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and Special Action Force (SAF). Furthermore, the Russian market has witnessed the illicit sale of stolen data logs from compromised Philippine government subdomains.” (“Philippine threat overview,” Cyfirma, October 2023).

The Department of Information and Communications Technology came out with its 2022 National Cybersecurity Plan (NCSP), with its primary goals to include: “1.) assuring the continuous operation of the Philippines’ critical infostructure (CII), and public and military networks; 2.) implementing cyber resiliency measures to enhance ability to respond to threats before, during, and after attacks; 3.) effective coordination with law enforcement agencies; and, 4.) a cybersecurity-educated society.” The NCSP is “intended to shape the policy of the government on cybersecurity and the crafting of guidelines that will be adapted down to the smallest unit of the government.”

Indeed, while cyber-warfare will not take the place of conventional warfare, still its potential to disrupt our economy, energy structure, and socio-political cohesion — thus reducing our abilities to fight an actual war — is immense. The country must learn to absorb and mitigate the damage potential of cyber-warfare, including necessarily creating a legal infrastructure to address the various scenarios it can foreseeably create.

The views expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the institutions to which he belongs.


Jemy Gatdula read international law at the University of Cambridge. He is the dean of the Institute of Law of the University of Asia and the Pacific, and is a Philippine Judicial Academy lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter  @jemygatdula