Editor’s note: Third in a series by ABS-CBN News on the presence on Facebook of Halalan 2022 presidential candidates.
MANILA - He had an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 2016 with hardly any buzz on social media to his name. Three years later, Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso won the mayoralty race in Manila. By 2019, there were 42,511 posts about him on Facebook with 26.8 million interactions, most of them after he was installed in office.
By 2021, the Facebook page of Domagoso, of all the pages of the 10 Halalan 2022 presidential candidates being tracked by ABS-CBN News, had the most interactions in the last three years ahead of the elections, jumping from 12,700 interactions in 2018 to 133 million between 2019 and 2021.
Domagoso ran as Manila mayor in 2019 with hardly any uptick on his Facebook presence. After his installation as mayor, his Facebook page exploded. This was in July 2019.
His Facebook page logged the biggest growth in terms of the volume of reactions, comments and shares in 2019 when it went from 177,679 for June 1-31 to 5.27 million for July 1-31, driven by the mayor’s video posts and frequent live streams.
So big was the growth of Domagoso’s Facebook page footprint for 2019 that for that year, he surpassed even the numbers of Sen. Manny Pacquiao, whose page interactions have been by the tens of millions since 2016.
Domagoso’s followers also grew dramatically during the same period, jumping from 725,000 in June 2019 to 1.54 million in July, or a growth of 810,000 followers. His followers would keep on increasing by about 150,000 to 300,000 monthly after that.
By comparison, no other presidential candidate page has grown as much and as rapidly in page likes as the page of Domagoso. While Sen. Manny Pacquiao, among the candidates, has always had the biggest Facebook page in terms of likes, the increase of his page following has been a steady rise, unlike Domagoso's which shot up radically in 2019.
But Domagoso’s share of the conversation pie on Facebook, where Filipinos purportedly get much of their news, has not always been this significant.
In 2015 Facebook posts mentioning Domagoso, he appeared to be at the receiving end of help from the political heavyweights of that time as he was being considered or endorsed for his Senate run.
That year, the Facebook post mentioning then-Manila Vice Mayor Domagoso that gathered the most number of interactions was a post (about 12,000 reactions, comments and shares) by Manny Piñol on how Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who was then considering a presidential run, could include Domagoso on a possible Senate candidates' list.
The second top post was by then-vice presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who, running in tandem with then-Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago as president, said he was adopting Domagoso as a guest candidate in his senatorial lineup. That Marcos post obtained a little over 10,000 interactions.
Today, Piñol is running for the Senate under the slate of Sen. Ping Lacson who is running for the country’s highest office against Domagoso, Marcos and 7 others. But it looks like this is not the only thing these candidates have in common.
Content spreader posts for Isko, also about Marcos and other pres’l bets
A Facebook page called Balitang Maynila which has been posting content and updates about Domagoso is also the fourth biggest sharer of content involving former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. between October 2021 and last February, research by ABS-CBN News revealed.
The research was inspired by the 2021 work of Dr William Emmanuel Yu of the Ateneo de Manila University on public Facebook interactions to identify "coordinated behavior." In Yu’s algorithm, at least 5 Facebook pages sharing the same post within 1 minute would be tagged as exhibiting coordinated behavior.
Facebook, now Meta, has been speaking against "coordinated inauthentic behavior" or CIB, because this undermines truthful public sentiment by manipulating distribution of content on the platform. The Yu algorithm adopted by ABS-CBN News does not make judgment whether the accounts or their actions are authentic; for now, it simply tags accounts spreading identical posts within a monitored time and identifies these as exhibiting coordinated behavior.
In the ABS-CBN research using Yu’s algorithm, the Balitang Maynila page figured not just in studies centered on Marcos, but on presidential candidates Leni Robredo and Manny Pacquiao as well, meaning it was also sharing content about them. These posts sometimes heckle or appear to take a swipe at these candidates.
Balitang Maynila was a page created April 23, 2018, and currently has at least 8,000 likes and followers. True to its name, the page posts news and updates about Manila and its mayor.
Since its creation, the page would have posts and interactions, but it went for several months without likes or followers. And then one day, it went from zero to 7,493 likes and 7,512 followers.
A Facebook page with a similar sounding name, Batang Maynila Movement, also posts about Domagoso. The difference is this page says it is a political organization and is forthright in its intro, saying, "Kami ay buong puso na sumusuporta sa mga pangarap at layunin ni Isko Moreno Domagoso."
Years before there was even mention of a possible Domagoso presidential run, a live video post of Domagoso on the Batang Maynila Movement page on Oct. 12, 2018 was the post about him that had the second-highest number of interactions on Facebook for that year.
The Batang Maynila Movement page was created on June 16, 2018. On Jan. 10, 2019, it went from zero to 6,648 likes and 7,165 followers – the same day that Balitang Maynila got its thousands of likes and followers.
The camp of Domagoso denied knowing about the Balitang Maynila and Batang Maynila Movement Facebook pages.
"We only have the official Facebook account of Isko Moreno Domagoso, @iskomorenodomagoso. For the two pages mentioned in your email, we are not aware of that as far as the communications team is concerned," Domagoso's Communications Team said in an email.
They also cited a previously stated position on spamming or trolling on Facebook, where Domagoso said during his very first television interview as a presidential contender that he "will make such social media platforms companies responsible on the spread of disinformation and misinformation."
CrowdTangle, Facebook's metrics unit which analyzes interactions on the social media platform, said it could only track the following of a page after it reaches 5,000. In this case, it is possible that the page may have gone undetected if it was on private mode.
"In this case, as the Follower history starts at about 6 - 7K... the Pages were only tracked then and thus that is the earliest of the Followers count that we can account for. There could be a few reasons why it was not tracked from the 5K mark, such as the Pages being gated in any way (age/geo gated) or if it was privatised before. Unfortunately, this is not something that we can determine now," CrowdTangle said.
Facebook, now Meta, frowns upon page or account behavior that may seem to artificially build audience. In a statement about pages that registered thousands of likes overnight, and therefore appears to be employing measures outside of usual practices to build a page's audience, Meta said it is constantly checking to guard against attempts to override its system.
"We routinely take action when we find violations of our Community Standards, including financially motivated efforts like spam... Since spammers are always adapting to try and game our rules, we'll continue monitoring and taking the appropriate actions to stay ahead of them," said a Meta spokesperson.