Social Media and 2016 Elections in the Philippines : The Bad and The Good

The 2016 national elections season is about to come to a close. Finally.

In a few days, our Facebook News Feed - hopefully - will once again be free from all the toxic fights between our friends supporting opposing candidates and all the biased or sarcastic status updates that seem to only inspire anger or instill strife instead of attracting undecided voters.

I witnessed the campaign period during the time of former presidents Fidel Ramos, Erap Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Noynoy Aquino; There were also vile controversies and senseless mud-slinging then. But the current presidential campaign season, involving Rody Duterte, Mar Roxas, Grace Poe, Jejomar Binay, and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, is truly on a whole new level -- and obviously, social media has a lot to do with it.

This is what I posted on Facebook after seeing that enraging Anti-Duterte TVC that used innocent children to advance a political agenda.

Sure, Facebook and Twitter were already around when PNoy went against Manny Villar, Erap Estrada, Gibo Teodoro, and Eddie Villanueva in 2010 but social media engagement among voters wasn't as much. I think the democratization of smartphones, which started in 2012 with the rise of our local handset industry, allowed more Filipinos to be more active in those sites, expressing their views and opinions even when on the road.

As we bid this epic, crazy 2016 elections campaign period goodbye, allow me to give you a quick rundown of what I think are the bad and the good things that happened in social media while we were choosing our next set of leaders.

The Bad

1. The Daily Fights

In our desire to defend our political choices, we brought out all our prejudices and biases in social networking sites. Many of us reached a point where we no longer cared if we hurt the feelings of others - even our friends, relatives, and workmates - as we posted disparaging comments, close-minded statements, or sweeping generalizations on FB, Twitter, and Instagram.

Most of the fights that I saw in my News Feed were between supporters of Mayor Duterte and Mar Roxas -- following the series of scandals and controversies that surfaced when the former became the front-runner in surveys.

And it didn't help that political parties also had Facebook Pages that often fueled the fire. Not to mention, bloggers, artists, TV personalities, and online influencers with massive following also swayed and - sometimes polluted - the political opinions of their fans.

Likewise, the concerted effort of digital and social media teams of each party (official and otherwise) to pull voters to their side - among other factors - created a downright hostile social media environment.

2. The Spread of Fake and Misleading Information

Almost everyday, we were bombarded with enraging narratives, videos, and photos - some had truth to them, some were deceptive and fake - that led some of us to post offensive or misinformed comments and status updates.

As the election season reached its peak, we all found ourselves in a landscape where it became increasingly hard to know what's the truth and what's fabricated information.

I should know. I myself fell victim to politically-biased Facebook users and pages that were just out to dupe voters.

A month into the campaign period, I made the mistake of believing a Facebook post - complete with photos - stating that Mr. Tony Tan Caktiong of Jollibee has already expressed his support for presidential front-runner Mayor Rody Duterte. I even shared the story on my own Timeline -- only to find out eventually that it was fake. I should have known better than to immediately believe what was presented to me.

3. Gang Cyberbullying

On May 2, 2016, a human rights defender and climate justice advocate filed a complaint with the Department of Justice against supporters of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who flooded her Facebook inbox with threatening messages after she posted a meme that said "Duterte is a lazy choice." She said the threats included "wishes" that she would die or get raped, or that her family gets "massacred.". (source)

Renee Julienne Karunungan stated that online threats of rape, murder, serious physical injuries are "no longer laughing matter," and are considered crimes under the Revised Penal Code, Cybercrime Law and Omnibus Election Code.

"These criminal behavior needs to stop. For this reason, I have decided to file criminal cases against those who have sent me threats," she declared as she filed her complaint.

On the other hand, on March 31, 2016, Duterte supporter Rachel Amestoso claimed that she received numerous death threats online after her Open Letter to Mar Roxas went viral on Facebook. (source)

Instead of filing a case against those who bullied her, though, Rachel simply posted this message on her FB Timeline before altogether deactivating her account:

Renee and Rachel were just two of many, many Cyberbullying victims in the 2016 elections season.

4. Stereotyping

"Stereotyping means mentally placing people in categories. Stereotypes can be functional or dysfunctional. Stereotyping is functional when we accept it as a natural process to guide our expectations. Stereotyping is dysfunctional if we use it to judge individuals incorrectly, seeing them as only part of a group." (source)

Rampant dysfunctional stereotyping and name-calling, which put people in very small boxes and reduced them to mere adjectives, became almost a staple in social media as we approached the final weeks of the campaign period.

Many supporters of Rodrigo Duterte tagged supporters of Mar Roxas as 'hypocrites' who don't really care about other people.

Mar Roxas supporters, on the other hand, noted that those who support Rodrigo Duterte are just as 'crass' and 'lacking in class' just like their idol. They even called this phenomenon, 'The Duterte Effect'.

5. Black Ops

A black operation or black op is 'a covert operation by a government, a government agency, a military organization, private company or a group that involves a significant degree of deception to conceal the entity or party behind it or to make it appear that some other entity is responsible.' (source)

An alleged Black Ops recruitment scheme by a group supporting Mar Roxas was brought to light by a supposed Duterte supporter who was offered Php 5,000 to take part in the campaign.

Up to this moment, however, I'm not sure if I should believe it. I mean, who's the Black Operative in this case? The Mar supporter in the conversation or the person who shared the screengrab on Facebook? It's hard to tell.

The Good

Despite all the dark or negative things that happened in social media within the past few weeks, this election period also brought out or highlighted bright and positive things in all of us, which put a smile on my face and inspired me to write this post.

1. Openness to Communication and Understanding

Yes, there were fights in my Facebook News Feed everyday. But there were also eye-opening and meaningful conversations that didn't involve name-calling, mudslinging, or cussing.

Facebook friends talking about the seeming failure of Daang Matuwid to address the daily woes of Pinoys who ride the MRT.

2. Creative Brilliance of Pinoys

Many Filipinos used their creative skills - be it in drawing, graphic design, music composition, writing, and video production, among others - to help promote the candidate they support and utilized social media as a platform for sharing their works with other voters.

This is cool graphic design work made by Jav Tarun to promote his bet, MDS.

L2E, a one-man video-editing team, created this amazing animated clip - for free - as a way to explain to Pinoys in social media why Digong Duterte deserves to become the next president of the Philippines.

Well-written essays like this one from Dean Tony Lavina on why Grace Poe is his president, this piece by Ivan Lanuza on why undecided voters should consider the ever-annoying and often-meme-fied Mar Roxas, or this note by Kristine Abante on the types of people who hate Duterte attracted thousands of readers on Facebook.

3. The Search for Truth

As we went deeper into the campaign period, Pinoys in social media learned to be more skeptical of every fresh update about the elections that was being shared online. Seeing more than enough fake information released by Black Ops and other elements in the weeks prior, many of us became inclined to check the veracity of every new headline in our FB News Feed.

On May 3, 2015, a supposed research firm named D'Strafford released the results of their Presidential Preference survey conducted on April 27 to 29, 2016 showing that Mar Roxas had overtaken Rodrigo Duterte as the election front-runner.

Instead of instantly believing D'Strafford's conclusions, some Pinoys in social media questioned the study and investigated the background of the research firm. They found out the company's website was created on April 14, 2016 - just a few days before the supposed survey period - and that its web template was merely copied from another website.

4. Embracing Our Differences, Respecting One Another

Going deeper than merely understanding and communicating to each other, Pinoy voters with varying beliefs showed through social media posts that they are capable of accepting and embracing each others' differences.

Many Filipinos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram proved that it is possible to co-exist and build friendships despite our differences in opinion and political inclinations.

Even the son of presidential candidate Digong Duterte, Sebastian 'Baste' Duterte, was gracious enough to pose in a photo beside the political opponent of his father, Miriam Defensor-Santiago as a sign of respect and admiration for 'The Iron Lady of Asia' -- a warm gesture that was well-appreciated by tens of thousands of Filipinos in social media.

5. Democracy in Social Media

Former Philippine president Ramon Magsaysay once said, "This country [the Philippines] is like a pyramid, like a tower. It is made up of millions of stones. And the foundation stone of this pyramid is the common man."

In a democracy like ours, everyone matters -- regardless of his or her social or economic status. All Filipinos have equal human rights and one's voice and opinions weigh just as much as that of the other person.

Freedom of speech is understood to be fundamental in a democracy. (source) And in this 2016 elections season, Pinoys sure exercised that freedom offline, online, and in social media.

Whether you supported Jejomar Binay,

Mar Roxas,

Grace Poe,

Miriam Defensor Santiago,

or Rodrigo Roa Duterte...

Your right to express and communicate your ideas and thoughts should be protected, respected, and never questioned.

On May 9, 2016, we will finally cast our votes to choose our next set of national leaders. As we approach the end of this wild and memorable elections season, I hope for three things:

1. That we can take to heart everything that we learned - the good and the bad - from this campaign period and use the lessons to grow as people.
2. That we always keep in mind that the positive change we seek should start from each of us. The Philippines can only become a great nation if all of us take it upon ourselves to be the best Filipinos that we can be.
3. That we continue to respect one another and value our democracy.

Vote wisely, TP Friends!