MECO 6936 Social Media Communication
Name: Jerwin Santos
Class session: Cherry Baylosis Thursday 12-3 pm
Introduction: A Case of Two Presidential Elections
In March 2018, news broke out about data leak of about 87million users of Facebook and ending up to a Cambridge Analytica (CA), a company in the business of using data analytics to influence behavior through social media particularly for election campaigns. In a Forbes article (Bloomberg, 2018), the company had worked with the Trump candidacy among other notable personalities (for more details on the data breach, see article here), and is said to have been pivotal in the turnout in the most recent US elections.
However, Facebook and CA’s connection to the incumbent US president’s victory is just a progeny to another yet case with an infamous political figure in a small country called The Philippines. As soon as the Facebook data breach scandal erupted, speculations on how the campaign strategy of elected Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, had used social media (Etter, 2017) for the May 2015 elections, may have been mirrored by that of the US. Facebook also claimed that around 87million Facebook accounts in the Philippines were exposed to the data breach, this is the highest number next to the US (Punit, 2018). In a timeline collated across several sources (See Figure 1), CA also came up in several instances and even alluded to have been responsible for a Philippine candidate’s victory as far back as 2013 (Horwitz & Ghoshal, 2018). And a year before the Philippine elections, CA CEO was reported to have been in Manila and met with campaign strategists of then presidential aspirant Duterte. Eventually, by a landslide, Duterte won, allegedly the least funded candidate, however, armed with a very strong social media campaign machinery (Etter, 2017).
Figure 1: Chronology of select events leading to the Facebook Data Leak Case (Created using Timegraphics)
Figure 2: Cambridge Analytica CEO with Duterte campaign strategists (Placido, 2018)
Philippines: A Social Media Landscape
Ever since 2011, the Philippines have been ranking highly in social media usage and mobile engagement. It ranked first among the countries that spend most time in social media (Singh,2011) up to 2018 (Kemp, 2018). It is to be noted that according to Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association or GSMA, the mobile operator governing and standards body, the Philippines had the fastest growing internet population between 2008 to 2013, and registered the top country in SMS transmission far exceeding those of Indonesia an even China. With these, there is no doubt that the Philippines was a fountain for social media activity on a global scale.
In 2014, Facebook, in line with the inception of its internet.org initiative, launched the first zero-rated Facebook, or “free facebook” in the world. This means that he use of Facebook will not incur data charges for the user. And thus, this further catapults social media penetration and subscriber unprecedented rise among telco carriers in the Philippines (Globe,2014).
However, the free Facebook also came with some problematic challenges, according to a study by Global Voices (Palatino,2017), a global anti-censorship activism group protecting internet freedom. Outside links from articles shared in Facebook did not come free or zero-rated, and that, only headlines and photo or video captions were visible to consumers of the free service. To access these links, the user needed to pay data charges. According to Global Voices, this further promoted fake news through provocative and misleading headlines which social media users use to engage without seeing the whole content (Palatino, 2017).
Figure 3: Free Facebook (Palatinoi, 2017)
Figure 4: Philippines spent most time in social media (Kemp, 2016)
Political Trolling, Fake News and Keyboard Armies
The investigative article by Bloomberg (2017), the Duterte presidential social media campaign came fully equipped with popular cultural intermediaries, but also came riddled with accounts of fake news, an army of online supporters and political trolls. Even The Economist (2017) further supplies that these so-called “keyboard armies” were employed by the presidential campaign proponents to spread false news accounts with the objective of “capturing, manipulating, and consuming attention” – which is the currency in social media (The Economist, 2017).
Fake news is disguised as news reports however are intended to misguide its intended readers. They were prevalent before to ensnare users for the purposes of building social media capital though likes, shares, or “click-baits” that convert to commercial revenues. However, these election campaign also saw the rise of fake news as a means for ideological advancement, promotion of causes, or smear an opposing party (Tandoc et al, 2018). These so-called fake news come in the form of satire, parodies, outright fabrication, photo manipulation, propaganda, advertisements (Tandoc et al, 2018).
One of the fake news accounts that went viral was that of “EVEN THE POPE ADMIRES DUTERTE” (below). It had spread across social media by the campaign keyboard army even before it came under fact audit. The hype generated had catapulted him to Facebook stardom that one month prior to elections he dominated 64% of election engagement topics. It was only after that this was denied by the Catholic church in the Philippines, as news fabrication (Etter, 2017).
Figure 4: How to Identify a Troll (Community, 2012)
However, the next prong to the campaign strategy is the employment of massive online supporters or trolls or “keyboard army” to spread fake news accounts, and obstreperously persecute non-supporters of Duterte branding themselves as “Dutertards” (Etter, 2017). According to Los Angeles Times in an interview with Freedom House, an independent vigilance organization on freedom and democracy across the globe, this army were paid 10$ per day to attack oppositions, non-supporters, and critics to the Duterte candidacy (Ayres, 2017).
Figure 5: “Even the Pope Admires Duterte” (Etter, 2017)
Conclusion: Media Literacy did not catch up with the Philippine’s Social Media Stardom
As fast as digital media and social media penetrated society, in the Philippines, as a prime example, governance and norms have remained a fluid and reactive mechanism. As impressive as it may have started, presenting the fertility of social media in the Philippines, it was unprecedented that such first world strategies could be used to a third world country like the Philippines.
Figure 6: Random Filipinos waiting for Jeepney ride (Bloomberg, 2017)
According to the Digital Journalism Journal article “Defining Fake News” (Tandoc, 2018), content is as liable as the audience, in this case, the Filipino netizens, however is as true in the United States. In this revolutionalised platform called social media, meanings of news are “negotiated”. It is important that such are legitimised by the recipient of news whether propagated by trolls or keyboard armies or published surreptitiously.
However, such initiatives to self-legitimise online content, or social media communication, as part of consumption may be oversimplification, without incorporating one’s society’s cultural context. A perfect example to this is the free Facebook and the resulting behavior among users in the Philippines, which may not be true to a neighboring country like Singapore.
As discussed by Lipschultz (2018), education sector must now be equipped with media and information literacy into the classrooms. However, it is uncertain that such implementation leadtime will be timely given the pace by which social media and technology threats evolve. And thus, while it is not supported yet by legislation, it may rely on the Philippines’ Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education to actively push across public and private schools for discussion to commence.
It is now left with citizen-voluntary actions to spearhead quick wins through what Lipschultz (2018) describe as “role of active and deliberative citizenship”. With funding, organisations that can focus on literacy programs, can provide a more dynamic and agile response to almost nil awareness of such threats in the Philippines.
Ayres, S. (2017, Nov 14). ‘Keyboard armies’ aid dictators, report says; freedom house details the global spread of information manipulation. Los Angeles TimesRetrieved from http://ezproxy.library.usyd.edu.au/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/docview/1963331353?accountid=14757
Bloomberg. (2018, April). Facebook Cambridge Analytica Scandal: Here’s What Happened. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2018/04/10/facebook-cambridge-analytica-what-happened/
Community 102. (2012, August 07). How To Identify An Internet Troll – INFOGRAPHIC. Retrieved from https://www.infographicsarchive.com/tech-and-gadgets/how-to-identify-an-internet-troll/
Palatino, M. (2017, July 28). Philippines: On Facebook’s Free Version, Fake News is Even Harder to Spot. Retrieved from https://advox.globalvoices.org/2017/07/28/philippines-on-facebooks-free-version-fake-news-is-even-harder-to-spot