Elections in the Time of Facebook

Never will an election be as much influenced by social media as this year's national and local synchronized elections. With around 47 million Filipino Facebook users as of 2015, it is safe to say that the rise of the influence of internet and social media to the Filipino voters is rising and is gaining relevance as much as traditional media like television, radio, and print media.

Moreover, Philippines is one of the countries that are leading in terms of social media penetration. While the global social media penetration average is at 31%, Philippines' rose from 40% in 2015 to 47% in 2016, according to WeAreSocial.sg.

It was also found out that the Filipinos spend the most time in social networking sites compared to other nationalities. We spend a whooping 3.7 hours a day browsing through our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds. I suspect I spend double that time as I am online most of my waking hours.

Prior to the elections, perhaps the PR people were busy drafting strategies to build up their candidates. However, I am under the impression that they underestimated to power of social media that some candidates are crowned online while others are crucified.

The Facebook users demographic is chiefly composed of 20-29 year olds. This is followed by the 13-19 and the 30-39 age groups. Yes, we millennials, internet natives still are the most avid Facebookers. It is important to note that the millennials do not just hold purchasing power, they too are the most numerous among the voters. Tapping their voting power can topple down the traditional campaign strategies.

Indeed, it is a very empowering idea, that the youth with their laptops and smartphones are the key players in this election.

The #Du30 Phenomenon

A staggering example of how social media single-handedly propelled a relatively unknown candidate from being a not-very-popular-barely-spoken-about-by-news-agencies to the SWS and Pulse Asia leading candidate whose rallies attract thousands of crowd comparable to an EDSA people power rally.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City did not have a clear plan to run. He was pressured by his supporters. In the beginning, no one has an idea how he can possibly gain any following as his competitors have been planning their candidacy along with their highly organized parties years before 2016. Nevertheless, his popularity skyrocketed.

This phenomenon can be attributed to the phenomenon of "tipping point" or the Three Rules of Epidemics that is theorized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point. The three rules are:

1. The Law of the Few -  The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. These people are the connectors (people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions), mavens (people who start "word-of-mouth epidemics" due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate), and salesmen (charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills). Duterte's supporters online are among the most well-connected and followed across the board just like Senyora Santibanez, a fictional character followed by 2 million people in Facebook alone.

2. The Stickiness Factor- The specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable. In the case of Duterte, his personality that goes against all that we nomally expect from a politician stuck like a dried gum at the back of our minds.

3. The Power of Context-Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur. Duterte came at a time when the Filipinos are tired of the usual politican. His campaign works well in the environment it plays in.

Pros and Cons

It is so far the most exciting elections that I have witnessed in my life. I believe it is the same for most millennials as we feel that we are actually engaged in the elections. Gone are the days when we base our presidential bets on their political ads and cross our fingers hoping they will win. Today, we can outright campaign for our choice candidates and join discussions on the merits of voting for certain presidentiables.

However, the trends suggest that the voters who are heavily influenced by social media, young as they are, tend to zoom into the details and not see the bigger picture. It is very alarming that netizens slam Mar Roxas for eating rice out of a mug, or Duterte cursing the Pope and blow the picture out of proportion. I concede that I am guilty of nitpicking, I can quote someone and make a big deal out of it.

However, what we always forget is to look at the whole context. We can never be able to make a sane decision if we just rely on trending issues about the candidates that may or may not be true.

The Cyberbullying Culture

Another negaive spinoff of the too much exposure to social media is cyberbullying. One netizen posts a negative comment about Duterte and he wakes up to a barrage of threats and shaming. Mar's campaign rally overseas barely attended and receives massive mocking. 

My take on this is that the Filipino netizens who have been previously repressed finally had a way to speak against people in power. This newfound power is intoxicating. And under the magnifying glass of social media becomes a match that ignites a forest fire. It's too tempting to resist.

What is apparent is that the political map of the Philippines is changing fast in the advent of the internet and social media. Our means of sieving the good politicians from the bad ones have greatly canged. But this sieve is not entirely perfect as the voters still have not reached political maturity. The Philippine political dynamics is juvenile. We can expect more mudslinging instead of platforms outbesting.

But the degradation of traditional political structures in the age of Facebook is a good start. We have hope!