Editor’s note: Second in a series by ABS-CBN News on the presence on Facebook of Halalan 2022 presidential candidates.
MANILA – Former Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. who has been leading surveys in the run-up to the May 2022 presidential elections has also been dominating Facebook interactions since 2016.
Posts of or about Marcos and his family have registered more than 700 million reactions, comments and shares on Facebook since 2016, research done by ABS-CBN News using Facebook’s metrics tool revealed.
Among the top five presidential candidates in the March 17-21 2022 survey of Pulse Asia, Marcos registered the biggest number of interactions on Facebook over the past six years, which means he potentially has the biggest slice of the conversation pie on this social networking site.
These numbers were obtained by running the keywords "Marcos," "BBM," "Marcos pa rin," "Bongbong," "Marcos Jr," "Bongbong Marcos Jr," "Ferdinand Marcos Jr" via the Search function of CrowdTangle, which describes itself as "a public insights tool from Meta that makes it easy to follow, analyze, and report on what’s happening with public content on social media."
CrowdTangle access is available for Facebook partners who are in the business of publishing original content, such as ABS-CBN News.
The counting of interactions is "agnostic" in the sense that it does not make a distinction between positive or negative sentiment.
The search captures mentions of keywords outside the Philippine election context - Manchester United's Marcos Rojo, for instance. But the numbers registered are not enough to change the overall standing of the former senator in terms of Facebook interaction numbers.
In 2016, the year Marcos ran and lost as vice president to Leni Robredo, there were 416,937 posts about him that gathered around 87 million interactions.
Topping the list of posts with the most interactions was a Facebook live session on Nov. 19, 2016 where the account claiming to be a "media news company" conducted a 4-hour live poll if people favored or not the burial of Marcos Sr., Bongbong's father and namesake, in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
The post invited people to reply by leading them to two external websites. When these sites were accessed for this report, both led to a porn site with Chinese texts. It is not known if the external links led to this same site at the time of the live activity.
The live post gathered a total of 401,170 interactions – likes, comments, shares and reactions.
The page that posted it, https://www.facebook.com/jam889official has for its intro, “We love you, That's why we're all about TODAY'S HIT MUSIC. #AllHitsAllJam!” and was created on April 2013. It has 56,615 likes, 76,266 follows, and listed Dasmariñas as its location.
Its Twitter account, https://twitter.com/Jam889OFFICIAL, created March 2013, however, said its location is in Legazpi. It has 6 followers. A search for other social media accounts named ‘jam889official’ led to https://jam889official.blogspot.com/
But neither the website it posted on Twitter (https://jam889fm.weebly.com/) nor on Facebook (www.jamnewsfm.com) worked. And yet, the Facebook page Jam 88.9 FM is a verified account.
Efforts to reach out and get the side of Jam 88.9 FM failed.
Facebook, now Meta, was sought for reaction over the odd behavior online of a page it had verified. As of this story's publication, Jam 88.9 FM, the biggest contributor of interactions to a Marcos conversation in 2016, now appears offline.
In a statement to ABS-CBN News, Meta said it has been doing routine checkups and will continue to try to do so to stay ahead of actors that attempt to game its site.
"In this case, this Page violated our inauthentic behavior and spam policies, which prohibit attempts to buy and sell Pages and exchange site privileges to build their audience. 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.
Other Marcos-related posts with big interactions in 2016:
• Post by the UP Diliman University Student Council on May 7, 2016
Total interactions: 329,721
• Post by the OFW Family on Nov. 23, 2016
Total interactions: 235,070
The rest of the top Marcos-related posts in 2016 involved discussions on whether the Marcos family really stole public funds, anti-Robredo sentiments, anti-Mar Roxas sentiments (Roxas, former Interior and Local Government secretary, was then a presidential candidate), justifications and alleged public clamor for a hero's burial for Marcos Sr. for being a supposed war hero, former Vice President Doy Laurel allegedly saying corruption under President Cory Aquino was worse than during the Marcos regime, and survey on putting Marcos Sr.'s likeness on the P500 bill.
Among the popular posts in 2016 was by the verified account of Marcos Jr. himself, posted March 28, 2016. It gathered 105,424 interactions.
In the succeeding years, posts mentioning Marcos continued to revolve around his family, although there were much fewer interactions in 2017.
In 2018, there were multiple pages with the same posts on the bravery of Marcos Sr. and how the Marcoses' court convictions over ill-gotten wealth were lies. The common theme is that the Marcoses acquired their riches legally – either through gold trading or as reward - and that the Marcoses have been pleading to share their riches to save Filipinos from poverty. Several of these have already been marked by fact-checkers as disinformation, but many remain publicly available and unchallenged.
A video posted on June 11, 2018 by a Facebook page called the PSSAP Underground Media saying Marcos Sr. could not have stolen funds bigger than the country’s budget when he was its president has 3.4 million views. Composed of footage and screenshots from news organizations’ various coverage, the post has about 272,900 interactions.
Meanwhile, a post on April 12, 2018 by the page of Radyo Pilipinas, a radio station owned and operated by the Philippine Broadcasting Service, an agency under the Presidential Communications Operations Office, featured a conversation between broadcast personality Erwin Tulfo and then-Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos.
In the video, Tulfo claims having seen a blueprint of the 'Build, Build, Build' as purportedly planned by former President Marcos, to which Marcos daughter Imee agreed to.
Years later, on the eve of an administration change, the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte would say the 'Build, Build, Build' program is one of its legacies. The tandem of Marcos Jr. and his vice-presidential candidate Sara, Duterte's daughter, would swear to continue the program.
In 2019, an election year, the post about Marcos with the fourth biggest volume of interactions was a photo of a possible tandem for the 2022 polls.
The Pinoy kami blog Facebook page posted on Feb. 19, 2019 a composite of the photos of Marcos Jr. and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte leading with, "Road to 2022."
The post has 228,300 reactions, comments and shares.
In 2019, there were more Duterte-related posts – posts that spoke about President Duterte’s achievements yet also referenced either Bongbong or his sister Imee who was then running for the Senate.
A post by 'Bongbong Marcos-Sara Duterte 2022' – a Facebook page created May 11, 2018 – claimed Marcos Sr. had planned to take Sabah with a supposedly very strong armed forces at his disposal, then went on to show photos of various air and sea military assets that many Facebook users have called out as belonging to other countries or having been bought way after the dictator's term, and were therefore false.
This post had 81,300 total interactions as of April 3, 2022.
As of April 14, the post has 99,000 reactions and has been shared 227,000 times. It has also been referred to the ABS-CBN News Fact-checking group for possible misleading or wrong information.
In 2020, the year the Philippines’ COVID-19 lockdown started, a man named 'Francis Leo Marcos' gained popularity on social media, and instances of his purported generosity were being posted on Facebook. Posts about him topped the list of Marcos-related interactions.
Yet, even with about 4.5 million interactions over Francis Leo posts, Marcos Jr. and his family retained about 85 million reactions, comments and shares in 2020, thanks to videos about or showing the older Marcos that gained high interaction numbers.
In 2021, content about Marcos Jr. and his family registered the biggest jump in the volume of their interactions on Facebook with a total of 381,307,089 reactions, comments and shares – 6 times the average volume of annual interactions they have had in the preceding 5 years.
Interactions peaked Nov. 7, 2021 over posts on the motorcade held in the Ilocos region in support of Marcos Jr., with Bongbong himself posting a picture that had a total 825,284 interactions and shared by about 100 Facebook pages.
Organizers claimed it was the "longest motorcade" in the country, joined by thousands of supporters and supposedly spanning more than 125 kilometers. VERA Files debunked this in a fact-check.
ABS-CBN News has been reaching out to the Marcos camp for comment on these pages or their overall stand on this kind of content on Facebook. They have yet to respond as of posting.
But Marcos Jr. has denied the existence of alleged troll farms in his campaign, as well as their influence to revise history.