How Social Media is Impacting the Philippines Political Landscape

Image of hand placing a ballot into box on blue background
Image of hand placing a ballot into box on blue background

With 2022 on the horizon, the political landscape in the Philippines is gaining momentum. Communications teams are ramping up efforts to get their message across as the nation prepares to vote in a new president. This is a crucial time for key candidates because the people of the Philippines will begin to form opinions and evaluate them in the run-up to the polls next year.

Like other recent elections in other countries such as the United States or Singapore, social media is fast becoming the new public sphere for citizens to congregate and discuss the issues that matter to them. The political domain is a hot topic for any democratic nation and come elections, people will proactively search for information as well as express their opinions online.

Google Search trend on 2022 Philippine presidential election

Google searches on the upcoming presidential election are trending as Filipinos are actively searching for more information. This great appetite for politics can be seen in Metro Manila, Mindanao and Central Visayas region where candidates such as Rodrigo Duterte, Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso and Leni Robredo are strategising their campaigns to address the constituents in those locations. 

Apart from news coverage as well as physical outreach efforts (which are hampered by the current pandemic restrictions), it is important that candidates strategically increase their communication efforts through social media.

Undoubtedly, Filipinos are vested in the political landscape and social media is their platform to voice their opinions. In a recent study, 81% of Filipinos use social media. That is one of the most in the world and it would be remiss for political strategists to not consider the sentiment trends within the social media landscape.

This is why social media intelligence is fast becoming a new haven for strategists and communicators to seek audience insights as well as ground sentiments. From a certain perspective, social media can be viewed as a new form of feedback data that can be drawn almost instantaneously from your desktops.

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Political Conversations in Philippine Social Media

The realm of politics is a vast one and many candidates have begun to use social media intelligence to bolster their campaign strategies. When voters are able to instantly engage with a candidate online, this increases the communicative relationship between the two sides of the political fence. Social media has boosted many political campaigns around the world including former US president Barack Obama while in Singapore candidates have been trying their best to make campaigning viral.

With the high rate of social media use in the Philippines, it makes sense for candidates to dive into the world of online discussions and threads. So far in 2021, there have been more than 24.7 million mentions of topics related to politics in social media. With the presidential election in 2022 a hot-button issue, Filipinos are jumping onto Facebook and forum threads to voice their opinions and concerns.

Conversations on Philippine politics by source

Social media conversations by sources trend

News outlets remain a great source of information and usually a point of reference for people to share, comment and voice their opinions on the latest political developments. The Facebook pages of GMA News, The Inquirer and Rappler are prime grounds for people to congregate on social media to debate on the latest politicking piece.

With Facebook pages of media outlets in focus, news is an integral part of elections. Narratives can be amplified by their reach and candidates will definitely use their platforms to send their messages to the voters. Looking at one of the articles with the highest Social Echo - Meltwater’s in-house metric that measures the coverage of a news article shared on social media - was The Inquirer's report on the lack of government funding to support the country's athletes. This issue was brought up in light of Hidilyn Diaz's win at the Olympics.

Image of The Inquirer article on Olympics gold medal winner Hidilyn Diaz

Source: The Inquirer

The article was shared more than 192,000 times and this shows that citizens are concerned with this issue of government support. This is why candidates as well as campaign teams need to keep an eye on media coverage because a minor issue has the potential to blow up in the social media space. This can be detrimental to a campaign’s plan and may derail the candidate’s positive momentum.

The data shows that Facebook remains the most popular platform for Filipinos to share their opinions on politics with almost 15 million mentions, with Twitter also being the platform of choice for political commentators contributing another 8.9 million mentions. There is also substantial social data of ground sentiments on other platforms such as blogs, Reddit and online forums. 

Sentiment Breakdown of political mentions by source

Bar graph of sentiment breakdown by source

Knowing which sources these opinions come from is important to communication and political strategists. They need to have the widest breadth of media intelligence as well as coverage from every media platform that is available to them to make the most critical decisions. 

Most of the mentions are neutral because people are mostly sharing news with their peers as well as generally commenting on the issue. On the other hand, as with all political domains, sentiments are usually negative because voters are usually critical of candidates and their proposed policies. This is a good thing because these negative sentiments give candidates the opportunity to address them before the elections come round.

Keyword cloud on Philippine presidential election

However, to further beef up these analyses, strategists can extrapolate more from these sentiments by grading them into topical groups so as to understand why voters are upset or disgruntled.  Strategists can create various categories to grade specific sentiments and include a percentage index to see how well their candidates are doing. This is similar to presidential approval ratings but in this context, using contextual social media data.

Based on this in-depth analysis, strategists can better curate their next communication plan to garner support for their candidates. These insights can also be deployed as a measurement to benchmark the candidates. These can help navigate candidates to address issues which may benefit their campaigns.

One quick way to identify topics is to take a look at keyword clouds. Scanning the keyword clouds that are associated with the Philippines political landscape, an apparent issue that people are discussing is the ongoing battle with the COVID-19 pandemic. People are deeply troubled by the virus and ultimately, they look towards the government for a response that would calm them.

Unsurprisingly, President Rodrigo Duterte is prominently featured in social media conversations but other political figures such as Leni Robredo, Antonio Carpio and Harry Roque also received attention from the public. Filipinos also mourned the passing of former president Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III. Filipinos also urged the government to reward the nation’s historic Olympic gold medal won by weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz. 

Reddit is also fast becoming a platform for Filipinos to express their opinions on politics. Interestingly, a sub-Reddit thread on boxing speculated whether former boxing champion and current senator Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao’s would be running for the presidential race next year.

This means that people all over the world are talking about this on Reddit while at the same time, gaining coverage within social media and increasing the feel-good factor in his nomination. His announcement with Rappler on corruption was very well-received and recorded a high engagement rate with more than 422,000 interactions. With stronger numbers in social media, there is a sphere of positive influence spreading across the country.

Image of online troll army and misinformation

The Threat of Troll Armies and Misinformation

They come in various names — troll armies, internet brigades, misinformation networks — but their aim remains the same. These groups aim to blur the lines between the facts and lies which would lead to people questioning the proposed plans of candidates standing for election. Opinions matter when a voter steps up to select their candidate and social media is arguably the first port-of-call these days to gather information. 

Social media giants Facebook have also taken action against misinformation campaigns during elections. The most recent and prominent example is the 2020 US presidential election where the company removed thousands of fake profiles which produced content supporting Donald Trump’s policies and assertions. Experts believed that this misinformation campaign was what led to the insurrection of Capitol Hill.

A political candidate’s opinions matter to voters because this is where they can evaluate who they want to lead their nation as well as improve the lives of citizens. Political candidates are key opinion leaders (KOL) or  — more aptly in social media lingo — an influencer of the people. Their opinions carry influential weight on voters. 

If troll armies are allowed to thrive in social media, this indefinitely impacts the way voters think and eventually creates a wave of support for some candidates while affecting others who do not share the same views.

In the Philippines, several politicians have filed a report to investigate troll farms. The team claims that public funds were being used and that political misinformation was being amplified by KOLs and influencers. With the upcoming presidential election in 2022, public relations teams and campaign managers are racing to counter the stream of misinformation in a country which has one of the highest rates of social media use.

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Partnering Media Intelligence & Politics in the Philippines  

There is no doubt that the social media domain plays an influential role in elections across the world. Candidates are aware of this decisive communication tool and have implemented detailed plans in their campaigns to spread their messages. Filipinos have taken up this mantle and embraced the use of social media to express their democratic voices. This is even more pressing now because of COVID restrictions and the reduction of in-person interaction. Social media has become the most effective and imperative way to address voters.

With the help of social media, we have seen many examples of social activism and getting the attention of those who reside in political spheres. The struggle of Black Lives Matter, the rise of #MeToo, the fight for climate action, the Pride movement — the list goes on. Filipinos are making that change too, tapping on their screens, stringing words to form their opinions in the social media space.

Governments and policymakers need to notice this wave of change and there is a way — the way is through social media intelligence. These opinions and issues are what policies are made up of — to address the concerns of the people and how authorities can better their lives. 

And these days, social media intelligence is only a few clicks away on your screen. From media monitoring to social media analytics to finding influencers that can have a positive impact on your campaign, Meltwater can be the driving force in getting the best out of your campaigns and truly listen to the voice of the people. Fill up the form below and we will deliver to you the best platform for your media intelligence needs in the Philippine political landscape.

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