How meme wars disrupt social media ads for #Halalan2022

Job Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 19 2022 03:33 PM | Updated as of Jan 19 2022 03:38 PM

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MANILA - Parodies and memes are being used on social media against political candidates as a strategic way to campaign for the upcoming 2022 polls, a disinformation researcher said on Wednesday, as the forefront of election drives shifts online. 

Dr. Jonathan Ong, an associate professor of global digital media at the University of Massachusetts, said "meme wars" are being strategized online because it looks "more organic." 

It is better suited though on Twitter and YouTube, compared to other platforms, Ong added.

"It looks more organic and more authentic, and it appeals to certain demographics. I think it is important for the Marcos campaign to be using and activating yung communities that they have built up over the years," he explained on ANC.

"What they are doing under the #LabanMarcos on Twitter… so that involved mobilizing different meme pages, parody pages," he said.

This comes after Vice President Leni Robredo was reportedly top spender on Facebook among all candidates for Halalan 2022. Her advertisements amounted to P14.1 million as of December last year, a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) showed.

To compare, presidential frontrunner Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr., the only son of fallen dictator Ferdinand Marcos, has not recorded any ad spending on Facebook so far. 

Ong said in PCIJ's report that Marcos prefers meme wars over ads.

But Ong said meme wars is hard to regulate, which is why it is being used strategically by the camp. 

"Meme wars is very strategic in [terms of] it evades monitoring and regulation. It operates in grey areas," he said. 

"Even though we can see network of accounts were founded, people created these types of accounts at the same time and therefore may mga tells, clues in terms of how they were strategically mobilized front he top down, and therefore may money involved here," he explained. 

The analyst, though, said the network could be hard to prove as this is different from the transparency of traditional advertising, which happens through official pages on Facebook. 

Some influencers could also claim they are real fans of the political candidate, even if the Commission on Elections compel them to be transparent with their financial transactions. 

"There’s a lot of loopholes and grey areas when it comes to influencer marketing and hindi siya formally captured ng regulation natin ngayon," said Ong. 

Social media has become one of the major battlegrounds during the election season in the Philippines, with many citing the campaign strategy of President Rodrigo Duterte as a success story. However, it has also turned into a hotbed of disinformation.

With the pandemic still raging, candidates are expected to migrate a massive portion of their campaign online. 

According to Robin Garcia, president and CEO of WR Numero Research, social media and digital political campaigns may not be the only factor that could win an election, but it can be an indicator of "popularity and awareness."

Political analyst Tony La Viña, meanwhile, also said that candidates in the 2022 elections are expected to "stay in the social media space much longer." 

- With reports from Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News