During elections, online social networks are powerful—but so are personal relationships

during elections online social networks are powerful but so are personal relationships - During elections, online social networks are powerful—but so are personal relationships

Social media platforms are highly influential during election campaigns, but online clout doesn’t necessarily translate into real-world results, according to Richard Heydarian, a public educator and academic. 

Mr. Heydarian used as an example the 2019 Philippine general elections, wherein media-savvy candidates with a significant number of followers on social media failed to win. 

Chel Diokno, an active Twitter user whose followers number in the hundreds of thousands, did not make the cut for senate despite his credentials. Mr. Heydarian called Mr. Diokno a “phenomenon” and compared him to American senator Bernie Sanders, whose 2016 presidential campaign garnered grassroots support in the United States.

“At the end of the day, what also matters is the kind of personal relationship that you have with the people on the ground… the kind of credibility that you build, and what you bring to the table in a concrete manner. That kind of old-school, competent leadership—it’s not yet irrelevant,” Mr. Heydarian said during the opening program of the Media Civics Lab 2020–21.

Online networks played a huge role in the 2016 Philippine presidential elections, with candidates updating Filipinos on their campaign activities through fan pages on sites like Facebook and Twitter. 

As a presidential candidate, Rodrigo R. Duterte amassed an outspoken following that amplified his Facebook posts. By the end of the year, Mr. Duterte and the elections made it to Facebook’s most talked-about global topics in 2016

Mr. Duterte worked with Nicanor “Nic” Gabunada, a former marketing executive, whose know-how directed effective content creation. “It’s the creativity of what you have. The material has to be engaging. We present it in a different way and it has to be very much localized for the target market and for the location where the message is aired,” Mr. Gabunada said in 2016.

Unfortunately, social media also became a malicious tool, with troll farms spreading misinformation and pushing propaganda. Val Vestil, executive director of non-profit organization Association of Young Environmental Journalists (AYEJ), said that ordinary citizens can combat this by producing their own content. Whether it is a status post or other kind of media, citizens must first take their time to research and be critical of the media that they consume in the process. 

“We’re so actually compulsive in our desire to create content… Once we see an issue that we disagree with and would like to create content on, we tend to immediately go on Facebook and do a long rant… The problem with that is, if you don’t think about what you write about, if you don’t actually set aside time to do research… it might, in fact, propagate misinformation,” he said.

Simultaneously, Filipinos must come up with informative projects outside of the Internet. “Not all of this happens just on the internet: the disinformation, the fake news. Its effect is not just on our use of digital media… Its effect is on all aspects of our lives,” said Melanie Pinlac, a lawyer and writer.

There must also be greater pressure on social media companies and the government to enact more transparency around political consultancy agreements, especially for digital campaigns, said Sharmila Parmanand, a debate educator and analyst.  “We don’t have an idea on who is running what. Just having access to that information in a way that is easy to see can therefore help us become a lot more critical,” she added. — Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo

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