How Facebook accidentally announced war in the Philippines

Facebook's Philippines Independence Day greeting sent an inadvertently bellicose message to the island nation.

Erik De Castro/Reuters
A huge Philippine flag is hoisted during the Independence Day celebration, attended by President Benigno Aquino (not pictured) and other government officials, two weeks before Aquino will relinguish his post to newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte (not pictured) in Manila, Philippines June 12, 2016.

To celebrate Independence Day in the Philippines on June 12, Facebook posted a shareable button that featured three people and the Filipino flag with the message: “Happy Independence Day! Here’s to all of the Philippines’ health, happiness and prosperity.”

But the social media giant ran into a major snafu: They featured the Philippine flag upside down.

This might not be a big deal in some countries, but in the Philippines, an inverted flag featuring the red portion of the flag over the blue means that the country is at war. 

This was unintentional, and we’re sorry,” Facebook said in a statement. “We care deeply about the community in the Philippines and, in an attempt to connect people on Independence Day, we made a mistake.” 

With more than 25 million Facebook users, the country ranks ninth in the world for the social media site. And this means that there were many Filipinos ready to call out Facebook’s mistake: 

But given the current state of Philippine politics, some Facebook users originally assumed the flag inversion was intentional.

"Kamay na bakal," or iron fist, is the rallying cry of incoming president Rodrigo Duterte who campaigned on a message of “any means possible” to eradicate crime, drugs, and corruption in the archipelago nation. Mr. Duterte has told citizens it is fine for them to kill criminals or drug lords, a call to vigilantism that some equate to fomenting civil war.

“Oh, that wrong orientation of the Philippine flag courtesy of Facebook! What an appropriate mistake, because read your timelines: it seems we are at war anyway, at least at war against ourselves, and eager to be at war with humanity,” Filipino activist Jonas Bagas wrote on his profile Sunday. “The next government has not yet assumed office, but it has already waged war against freedom of the press…. And, on top of that, we will soon have shoot-to-kill orders and bounties to eradicate the scums that plague our timelines and our streets, those who are offending the cult of kamay na bakal.” 

Famed for making jokes about rape, swearing offensively at rallies, and endorsing a death squad, president-elect Duterte has been nicknamed the “Trump of the East” and "The Punisher." During Duterte’s 22 years as mayor of Davao City, extrajudicial death squads reportedly killed 1,000 people and Duterte himself has admitted to killing “about three people.” 

Facebook, however, assures users that the flag inversion was a genuine mistake, and in this blunder the social media site is not alone.

In 2010, the United States apologized after inverting the Philippine flag during a meeting between President Barack Obama and Southeast Asian leaders. And then a few years later in 2013 Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin carried the Philippine flag upside down before the start of a game with the Minnesota Vikings, in the well-meaning effort of raising funds for victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.