PH tops social media election engagement in Asia Pacific

Magno Ardenia, ABS-CBN News

Social media have been embraced by a lot of Filipinos in recent years but it was not until this year's elections that its impact was highlighted, a social network official said.

For the past few months, the country observed a transformed practice of "democracy" as many Filipinos easily jumped into the rough and tumble of online campaigns.

“We’ve had a very engaged population here in the Philippines, we’ve had 22 million unique users here in the Philippines involved in the conversations and more than 268 conversations around the elections in the Philippines, so this has been the most engaged elections on Facebook in the Asia-Pacific,” Elizabeth Hernandez, head of Public Policy for Facebook in the Asia-Pacific, told ANC Monday.

Candidates have also maximized the use of social media in their campaigns.

Hernandez said the social media phenomenon brought beneficial impacts to the political process, making more Filipinos feel empowered.

“As many more people are engaged in elections then you’re getting different perspectives, different insights on the issues that they care about and they are most passionate about, the better it is for the political process, the better it is for the democracy and for the country,” Hernandez said.

However, the use of social media in the electoral process seemed to be a double-edged sword, as experts noted this campaign strategy is also disempowering.

During the campaign season, memes and soundbites were used to spread misinformation, even moving world leaders and influential organizations to release official statements denying claims that went viral.

Professor Danilo Arao, convener of election watchdog Kontra Daya, also expressed alarm over false content, as he urged the public not to believe every information posted online.

“We’re now seeing that memes are getting popular along with GIFs, these seem to be new, relatively new, in so far as form is concern, but the advice to people would be not just to believe, just because there’s a picture and a statement there attributed to a certain personality it’s true, so sometimes even endorsements would be part of misinformation when in fact we should be in the business of truth telling," Arao said.

“It would appear the operators, particularly the army of trolls that are hired, and when I say hired they are actually being paid by these operators, they seem to be working double time insofar this election campaign is concern to either misinform people toward ensuring that they will win votes no matter what happened.”


Arao believes the rise of social media campaigning and propaganda is also a big challenge to credible news media organizations.

“Sometimes the public, even if it’s reported by credible news media organizations, they would still ignore what these dominant media would say because they would easily believe something that would inflame the emotions,” he said.

He said this phenomenon is unacceptable, noting that netizens should learn to distinguish truth from click-baiters.

“I think in the context of today’s elections, the main lesson for people would be to really directly involved in getting the information that they want by asking the candidates themselves for example, they’re now relatively more accessible, if not the candidates themselves perhaps their representatives,” he said.

Arao emphasized that there is a need to translate social media engagement to real life action.

“Of course our actions must go beyond the social media, because right now we have so called keyboard warriors, they think that they’re making a difference just because they’re active on social media, well, being active on social media is good but it has to be translated to proper social action,” he said.