With the Philippines being called the “Social Media Nation of the World” or the “Social Media Capital of the World”, it is but logical to suppose that social media affect the country’s elections, esp. the presidential elections every six years.
In a Dec 2019 SWS survey, almost a fourth (24%) of the Filipinos get their news from Facebook, 69% remained loyal to TV news, 19% get their news from radio while only 1% prefer to read newspapers.
But in a Pulse Asia survey done in Sept. 2021, it reported that 48% of Filipinos get their political news from the Internet, 44% of them get the news from Facebook.
There was only a 3% increase in the number of Filipinos getting their political news from the Internet, but the number of Filipinos who get their news from Facebook practically doubled – from 24% to 44%.
The 2021 Pulse Asia survey noted that only 10% said they visited online news sites and only 1% cited Twitter.
The 10% number here could be misleading. This could even mean that an even lower number – 3% – actually go to online sites since out of the 48% who get their news from the Internet, 44% get them from FB and 1% from Twitter. That leaves only 3% who presumably go to online sites
This is not correct at all. At best, it is misleading.
Facebook itself does not post news items. All news items come from somewhere else, mostly from the mainstream online news sites like ABSCBNNEWS, GMANEWS, and Rappler and the online newspaper sites like inquirer.net, and philstar.com .
By “following” the mainstream online news sites, or even just by liking and sharing their posts, their news items would appear in one’s news feed regularly. One does not have to go to their site to read the news items.
So, if a respondent is asked where he gets his/her news, s/he could correctly say FB, but s/he would have to click link to read the complete new story, which is on the websites of the online news sites, whether online versions of newspapers like inquirer.net or philstar.com or purely online news sites like Rappler or Bulatlat.
The criterion used by Alexa, Similarweb, Google and other ranking sites is the number of sites linking to it. The more sites linking to one’s site, the higher is its rank. Most ranking sites place inquirer.net it as the number one online news site in the Philippines. According to Similarweb, inquirer.net had 61.2M, 59.1 M, and 62.5 Million visits for the months of November 2021, Dec 2021, and January 2022 respectively. This data belies the Pulse Asia survey that said only 10% or 3% of Filipino internet users visit online news sites.
The online news sites do not only have their presence in the World Wide Web, they also have presence inside Facebook. Inquirer’s FB page has almost 7 Million Likes and 7.65 Million Followers.
Abs-Cbn News is the second top news site in terms of sites liknked to it. It does not have a lot of visits as inquirer.net but it has much more FB followers. Its FB page has 19.6 Million Likes and 22.9 Million followers.
The 23 million followers of Abs-cbn News might not visit the news site but the abs-cbn news will visit their (the 23 million followers’) news feeds in FB quite often.
These examples make it clear that when it comes to statistical data, one should tread carefully. It should know exactly what the data mean and how they compare to other data. When it comes to data on social media, it would be better to rely on verifiable data based on the verifiable records like number of followers, number of visits, numbers of links to the site, etc.
SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS
Despite criticisms against it from all sides, Facebook remains the most-used social media platform in the world. In Jan. 2022, FB was used by 2.9 Billion people in the world. YouTube was used by 2.56 Billion people while Whatsapp was used by 2 Billion people.
In the Philippines, FB is used by practically all Filipinos who have access to the Internet. According to the data from most sites, there are 95.2 million FB users in the Philippines or 84% of its population.
That data could not be correct. This number is being bandied about everywhere. But this is Misinformation The number is equivalent to all Filipinos except all 4 year olds and below and less than half of the children aged 5 to 9 years old. (This means that around 5.5 million 5 to 9 year old Filipinos are FB users.) One needs to be 13 years old or older to be able to have an FB account. There are only 111 – 112 million Filipinos And surely, not everyone in the Philippines has an FB account, especially the ones in remote villages in the provinces and those who are poor and elderly.
And, as I said earlier, Philippine penetration or adoption rate is pegged at 68% only. Some go as high as 70%, others go lower like Pulse Asia who pegged it at 63% in 2021. It is certainly not 84%. This number probably means FB accounts, including FB pages, owned by people in the Philippines. Many people have several accounts, including FB pages. The troll armies of politicians usually require each “cyber soldier” to have at least 5 FB accounts.
Despite the inflated figures, the Philippine users of FB and its “sister app” Messenger are still so many – presumably at some 70 million. This is so much more than Filipino users of the other social media platforms like Instagram, Linkedin and Twitter
SOCIAL MEDIA USES FOR ELECTION PURPOSES
The fact that millions of Filipinos spend most of their time in Social Media means that that is also the best way to get in touch with them. Mainstream media like TV may still be a great way of connecting with the electorate, but online media may prove to be a better alternative, esp. since it is so much cheaper.
According to Pulse Asia, in a survey conducted in June – Sept 2021, adult Filipinos, those of voting age, 63% use the Internet. This is broken down as follows: 84% in NCR, 65% in the rest of Luzon, 62% in the Visayas, and 47% in Mindanao.
According to this survey, “forty-one percent access the web to read, watch, or listen to news about the government, 24 percent to read about the elections… 20 percent to send or read emails.” Practically all of them have Facebook and Messenger accounts, about half of them have Youtube accounts, less than a fifth are registered with Tiktok, 14% have Instagram accounts and 8% have Twitter accounts.
The statistics are clear:
At least 68% of Filipinos have internet access or about 75 million people. That is more than the estimated voters for 2022 elections. COMELEC announced that there are 67.5 million registered voters for the coming elections.
As I mentioned in the first part of this lecture: These are the general characteristics of Filipino behavior regarding Time spent in the Internet and Social Media:
- Filipinos with Internet access generally spend 10 hours and 27 minutes EVERY DAY on the Internet.
- Filipino Internet users spend 5 hours and 47 minutes every day on the internet using their mobile phones. That means the Internet is accessible to them wherever they go.
- Filipinos spend 4 hours and 6 minutes using Social Media every day. This is about the same duration as using the Internet through mobile phones.
- Two-thirds of Filipino internet users watch educational videos.
- Around 60% watch vlogs.
- More than half of Filipino internet users follow influencers.
- Almost half (48%) of the internet users get their news from the Internet, with 44% getting them from Facebook.
- Forty-one percent access the web to read, watch, or listen to news about the government.
- About a fourth go to the Web to read about the elections.
- And a fifth go to the Internet to send or read emails.
It seems crystal clear that the best way for candidates to access the electorate is through the Internet – primarily through Facebook and Messenger. Videos can be uploaded through YouTube and shared through Facebook and Messenger. Emails would also be a good strategy.
Harnessing media influencers would give a big push to any candidacy as they bring in a captive audience.
Boosting FB posts or pages can have huge reach. Putting ads in FB is immensely cheaper than a 30-second ad on TV. One creative content, like a video ad, can be posted in several platforms and continuously shared through several platforms – YouTube, FB, Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok, Tumblr, Blogs, Vlogs, Viber, etc.
Let’s take a look at Social Media Elections in the Philippine since 2010
SOCIAL MEDIA ELECTIONS – 2010
So-called Social Media elections is not a new phenomenon. The Cambridge Analytica scandal exploded into the world scene in 2018 where a whistle blower revealed that the British political consulting firm obtained personal data of some 87 million Facebook users – 1.2 million of them were Filipino FB users – to help political personalities.
In an archived version of Cambridge Analytica’s mother company Strategic Communication Laboratories’ (SCL’s) website, it says:
“SCL Elections was asked to run the election campaign for a Presidential candidate; this included managing all aspects of the campaign including research, strategy and output over a seven-month period. SCL Elections successfully won the election for their candidate.”
The page was archived in September 2010. The Philippine presidential elections were held on May, 2010. Benigno Cojuangco-Aquino III won that elections.
In a Sept, 2019 Rappler article, whistle blower Christopher Wylie said that the Philippine was its “petri dish’. In an interview with Maria Ressa, Wylie said:
“And SCL Group, even before I joined, had a relatively long history working in Filipino politics. And even whilst I was working at Cambridge Analytica – staff from the company would go and visit the Philippines.”
“And the way SCL and later Cambridge Analytica would make money is they would go into countries with relatively underdeveloped regulatory infrastructure or questionable rule of law where it was easy to get away with things…and create propaganda and support politicians who would be willing later to pay back favors,” Wylie said
Since SCL and CA stole the personal date of FB users, it can be presumed that social media was their primary tool in their political campaigns.
SOCIAL MEDIA ELECTIONS – 2016
According to a Rappler article, the 2016 polls was branded a “social media elections” as social media played a vital role in it. A Manila Times article notes that “Social media was a game-changer in the 2016 elections according to the Asia Foundation.”
Several PR personalities came out saying that many PR teams organized troll armies during the 2016 elections. These are armies of people organized hierarchically to use social media, especially Facebook, to promote their candidate, spread disinformation on opposing candidates, bully the supporters of opposing candidates, spread their posts far and wide by sharing them several times.
The troll armies did not start in 2016, but it grew exponentially during that time.
According to many reports, Facebook helped Mr. Duterte win the elections.
International publications like The Guardian even mentioned allegations that Facebook helped Duterte in more ways than one. There seems to be more to it than meets the eye.
Mr. Duterte did not have a bona fide national political party, he did not have as much money as the other candidates, he is hardly known outside the Davao region, he does not come from a nationally prominent family, he really has nothing to boast of aside from allegedly making Davao City prosperous.
Duterte’s win was really something for the books. And many say, he had help from a certain kind of book.
POST- 2016 ELECTIONS
After the elections, the troll armies continued. But this time, it was just the army of the winning President. Anyone posting against the President’s policies would be attacked with threatening comments, and according to Maria Ressa, even threatening rape and death. Fake news proliferated.
Internationally, Facebook was accused of helping authoritarian regimes like that of India’s Modi, Philippines’ Duterte, and USA’s very own Donald Trump.
Facebook, like Duterte has been dogged by controversies since after the 2016 US and Philippine presidential elections.
In 2019, Los Angeles Times warned Americans that Troll armies is “a growth industry in the Philippines”, and might be coming to American elections.
DIGITAL or SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGNING in the 2022 ELECTIONS
The 2022 elections is being defined as a truly Social Media elections since there is a pandemic and human movements are somewhat restricted.
According to a PCIJ article in MindaNews, several candidates began advertising in FB one year before the May 2022 elections. Several politicians, both local and national were mentioned as paying for FB ads.
According to several reports, for the period August 4, 2020, the day when the FB transparency tool was activated, until December 31, 2021, VP Leni Robredo leads the candidates in FB ad spending with 14. 1 Million pesos followed by Sen. Gatchalian with 8.59 Million and Sen. Lacson with 5.36 Million pesos.
In a CNN Philippines news report (June 8, 2021) The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) reminded Filipinos try to discern what is Fake News and Misinformation in Social Media as “it remains a key player in the upcoming 2022 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
During the whole regime of President Duterte, the Duterte Die-Hard Supporters (DDS) has flooded Facebook with Fake News. Even memes that say Queen Elizabeth II admire Duterte are passed around and believed by his supporters.
According to COMELEC, there are 65.7 million registered voters for the 2022 elections. The figures for Mindanao are broken down as follows:
Zamboanga Peninsula: 2,298,930
Northern Mindanao: 3,060,485
Davao Region: 3,236,251
Caraga Region: 1,868,798
BARMM : 2,385,359
According to the 2015 census, among the Mindanao populace, 23.3% are Muslims. Using the same pecentage for today’s Mindanao voters, there are about 3.6 Million Muslim voters in Mindanao. (There are of course many more Muslims in other parts of the Philippines.)
PEACE AND ORDER
In Mindanao, the number one concern for the national public is Peace and Order, mainly because it gets the most media mileage. Every elections, there are so many areas declared “hotspots” by COMELEC and put under the control of the PNP and AFP.
For an outsider, that is good news. The ballots are going to be protected. But that can also be BAD news. That makes the PNP and AFP control the elections – esp. the COUNTING of the votes.
The military people have friends among the local populace, if not the candidates themselves. They can very well make things easier for the favored candidates like allowing them to witness the counting or they can prevent the other candidates’ poll watchers from observing the election process.
Before and after Marcos’s Martial Law, there was cheating. The cheating was done by the candidates in their bailiwicks. I used to call it Balance of Terror. But when the Military takes over the electoral process, esp. on Election Day – the Terror is only on the side of the military and the COMELEC. In the old formula – Guns, Goons and Gold – candidates who are “friends” with the military will just give the Gold to the military who would act as their Guns and Goons.
NO SOLID SOUTH
In an online forum hosted by MindaNews on Nov. 30, 2021, the panel of experts declared that there is no such thing as a Solid South or there is no such thing as a Mindanao Vote, esp. in the coming elections.
Let’s take a look at the past elections.
Erap Estrada won overwhelmingly in Mindanao in the 1998 elections. It looks like a Solid Mindanao Vote. But he could not translate his votes to that of his running mate.
In 2004, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won all over Mindanao, except in ARMM. Some people considered this a “Miracle” since FPJ, the King of Philippine movies was universally acknowledged as unbeatable in Mindanao like his best friend Erap Estrada.
In 2010, the impeached former President still won in Mindanao with 40% of the votes, even though he lost everywhere else.
In 2016, it cannot be denied that Mr. Duterte won a great deal of the Mindanao Vote – winning 23 out of 27 provinces in Mindanao. He is the first person who grew up and lived in Mindanao and who ran and eventually won the Presidency.
Duterte won landslides, i.e. margin of victory is more than 50%, in 13 provinces and cities.
Any way you cut it, that surely looks like a very Solid Mindanao Vote for Duterte. It also looks like a good Solid Muslim / Moro Vote, too.
Duterte however, was not able to carry his VP running mate , Cayetano. Cayetano won only in 6 provinces – Duterte’s 5 provinces of Davao and Surigao del Sur.
MINDANAO IN THE 2022 ELCTIONS
Can Mr. Duterte’s solid Mindanao vote in 2016 be transferred to his anointed candidate? In 2016, Robredo won in 13 provinces, Marcos, Jr. won in 8. But this time, these two people from Luzon will have to compete with boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, who was born and bred in Mindanao. But then, Marcos’s running mate is Sarah Dutert, who is born and bred in Mindanao and Duterte’s daughter.
There is quite a complication with the Marcos-Duterte tandem. Duterte, the Elder, expressed contempt at Marcos, Jr. He did not attend the proclamation rally of Marcos-Duterte team. There is also a strong Isko-Sara movement in Mindanao spearheaded by President Duterte’s supporters.
When the Isko Moreno team campaigned in Mindanao, his VP running mate, Doc Willie Ong, was not invited. And worse, Moreno admitted that he was invited there by people campaigning for an Isko-Sara tandem.
Last Feb 22, Robredo’s team went to Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro (CDO) City and were met by a huge number of people. Moro politicians led by former ARMM Gov. Mujib Hataman met her in Iligan.
In CDO, Mayor Oscar
Moreno, who is running for Misamis Oriental Governor hosted the Robredo team. In John Nery’s radio show, he expressed surprise at the huge crowd that greeted the Robredo team everywhere, esp. at the main rally at CDO.
In Feb 20, Isko Moreno with BARMM Chief Minister Murad Ahod in Cotabato City, the first presidential candidate to do so. He joined the rally organized by Congressman Esmael Mangudadatu. They then joined the huge gathering for the mass oath-taking of members of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) – the political party of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The question is, was it an MILF show of force for oath-taking of UBJP members OR for the Isko-Sara campaign? The BARMM Chief Minister has said in interviews that his group will go for whoever President Duterte chooses.
THE LOCAL MOOD
What’s in the mind of Moros during this election? To get a better feel of the mood of Moro voters in Mindanao, I interviewed 2 people currently involved in the elections and did a little Google docs – FB survey.
Amir Chavy. He’s a newbie in politics in the sense that it his very first time to run for office. He is running for Councilor in Cotabato City. But he comes from a family steeped in Mindanao and Philippine politics.
Jihad. His family in Lanao del Sur and del Norte is also involved in politics, in one way or another in both places. Right now, he is helping his younger brother Moh, Chair of Mindanao Multi-Sectoral Advisory Council, organize a movement for Leni-Kiko, esp. involving the youth.
1. How much impact does the Social Media have in this election?
Chavy said, only half of the people there is aware of Social Media as an election tool. But Jihad said it is a big factor in influencing voters, esp. in highly urbanized areas.
(Jihad was probably referring to the general Mindanao population. Chavy was speaking about the local situation, i.e., Cotabato City and Maguindanao.)
2. Is Fake News a factor in this election?
Chavy believes Fake News is a big factor since most people cannot tell what is true and what is not.
Jiihad believes the opposite as he thinks that because of the pandemic, the people have learned not to believe everything in the Internet.
3. Are there a lot of Fake news going around in this election?
Both say there’s a lot of Fake News going around but Jihad said it is very small comapared to the last elections “as it now does more harm to the perpetrators, and media platforms are quick to sanction malicious activities.”
4. Are you or the people or groups you know campaigning for candidates using Social Media? How so?
Both say that there are a lot of candidates using Social Media, mainly for publishing daily activities. Chavy said he has an FB page dedicated to his candidacy.
5. Are they spending on ads in Social Media?
Jihad said national candidates do, but he has not seen local candidates do so far.
Chavy said he boosts his FB posts once in a while. And from time to time, he sees his opponents’ ads/FB posts (presumably boosted).
6. Do you think there will be honest and fair elections overall nationally? In Mindanao? In your district?
Both said No. Chavy explained that either COMELEC has long been an accomplice to the cheating or its people are “plainly inept” with regard to the cheating.
7. What are you learning about Social Media in relation to elections in your region or district ?
Jihad believes that in BARMM, and most places in Mindanao, vote butyng is widely practiced. So, he said candidates save their money for that, instead of spending money on ads – Social Media or not.
Chavy, on the other hand, is thankful that candidates with little funds can now have a platform where they can reach a wider audience.
To get a better feel of the sentiments of the people of Mindanao, esp. of the Bangsa Moro, I put an Google doc ad in Facebook. It’s a survey form titled “On Digital or Social Media Interaction: a survey on characteristics of Mindanao residents regarding digital or social media.”
FB said the whole Mindanao is too big for target audience, so I just limited it to:
It got a reach of 9,408 and 212 people clicked the link to the Google doc form. But only 46 people answered the survey questions.
Even though it is a small non-probability sampling and does not represent the ideas of everyone in Mindanao or even of the chosen locales , it will give us a glimpse of what the Mindnao voters are thinking. It is better than generalizations from anecdotal evidence or from so-called experts’ opinions.
1. Out of 46 respondents, only 2 are not registered in Mindanao.
2. Almost half chose candidate’s qualification as their first criterion in voting for a candidate. Almost a third (30 %) chose campaign platform or promises and 8.7% were candid enough to choose relative or friend.
3. Some 37% of the respondents say that they usually get to know their candidate(s) through Social Media. 24% chose Personal Meeting while 22% say through mainstream media.
This is quite significant as most people (37%) get to know their candidates through social media than through personal contact or mainstream media.
4. Most respondents (87%) say that a candidate’s platform or campaign promises are important. As shown earlier, that is the second highest consideration, after candidate’s qualifications
5. Other than for gaming, more than three-quarters (76%) of the respondents say they go to the Internet two to three times a day, with 8.7% going everyday. This proves the statistics that Filipinos spend a lot of time in the Internet.
6. While they go often to the Internet, they do not necessarily believe what they read or see in the Internet. Around 39% say they believe some of it, while 24 % say they do not believe everything in it. 19.6% say believe half of it while some 15% believe most if not all that is put in the Internet.
So, there are still 15% – 20% who are most susceptible to Fake News.
7. About 35% believe that elections are never clean and honest in their area while the same number of people believe that sometimes, there were clean and honest elections in the area. There are 22% who say that most of the time, elections are clean and honest while about 9% believe that elections in their area have always been clean and honest.
The “No” and “Sometimes” answer overwhelms the “Most” and “Yes” responses 57 – 31. There are almost twice as many who believe that elections in their area were never or just sometimes clean and honest than those who believe that elections in their area were clean and honest always or most of the time.
8. Some 41.3% of the respondents say Vote Buying is the biggest hindrance to a clean and honest election. As Jihad, our interviewee noted, candidates do not spend much on ads or social media because they save their money for Vote-Buying.
And a third (32.6%) of them believe that Political Dynasty is a big hindrance.
The remaining respondents, about a fourth (26%), believe that cheating is the biggest hindrance. Half of them say cheating in the counting at the precincts while the other half say it is cheating by COMELEC.
9.Can the Social Media help bring about a cleaner and more honest elections?
The respondents who are quite optimistic are twice as many as those who don’t believe so — 67.4 % say Yes, 32.6% say No.
10. How can the Internet or Social Media help bring about cleaner or more honest elections? Please be specific.
While there are some who say that Social Media cannot help, there are many more who said they can.
These are some of the suggestions:
- Social Media Education Campaign
- Social media is the fastest means of providing awareness to the public of election frauds, and other election related anomalies in order for those in authority to address such.
- Anyone can video, record and make a story of his/her own without protecting anyone and make use of his/her file as evidence. For example, any voter who thinks that there is an irregularity in his/her precinct may take a video and present it to the COMELEC and use it as a proof that either a candidate, a supporter or a teacher is involved in administering a questionable election. This is why it is important to have know-how of the Internet or Social Media.
- By uploading videos or images of election violations
- By monitoring what’s going on the day of the elections and the day after.
- Strict fact-checking of posted messages.
- Bantay Vote, True information drive ,
- By posting the truth, Right information
- Live stream (Transparency)
- Posting about the policy of regarding honest electrons
- Can report vote buying
In other words, the respondents are saying that Social Media can help bring about a cleaner and more honest elections by being the platform for people to post any anomalies or irregularities in the electoral process as well as being the platform to better educate the people on detecting anomalies on the electoral process as well as detecting fake news.
On the other hand, some respondents don’t like Social Media because there are many Fake News there.
When it comes to spending time in the Internet and Social Media, mostly using cellphones, the Filipinos are the world’s champions. That is the reason why the Philippines is the “Social (Media) Nation of the World”.
It is but logical for candidates to reach out to their electorate through Social Media as it is widely used and is much cheaper.
According to Pulse Asia, 84% of adults in NCR use Internet but only 47% of adults in Mindanao. Thus, the Internet is only HALF as significant in Mindanao as it is in NCR.
Since 2010, people have allegedly manipulated the electoral process, mainly through social media. International political consultants, Facebook, PR firms, troll armies are allegedly involved in the Philipine electoral process.
Various groups have called on Filipinos to beware of Fake News and Misinformation in Social Media as “it remains a key player in the upcoming 2022 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
There are many people susceptible to Fake News. From the sample survey, 15% believe most, if not all that is in Internet, 39% believe about half of what is in the Internet. One interviewee said that most people in his area cannot discern what is fake or not.
There are 15,456,315 voters in Mindanao with Muslim voters in Mindanao numbering around ~ 3,601,321.
Many areas in Mindanao will be labeled Hotspots and be put again under Comelec and PNP/Military control
Is there a Solid South? A solid Mindanao Vote? Will there be an overwhelming vote in Mindanao for one Candidate this year? Not likely. Votes will most probably be split many ways.
Among the survey respondents, , some don’t like Social Media because there are many Fake News there. But a great majority of them believe that Social Media can help bring cleaner and more honest elections
This is the “extended version” of the second and last part of the lecture “Social Media, Philippine Elections and the Mindanao Vote” delivered by Datu Jamal Ashley Abbas on the webinar titled Digital Journalism and the Mindanao Vote on March 4, 2022 organized by PPI, JSAP Inc, and others.
For the first part, go to Social Media Capital of the World