In a study reported in a recent Fortune article the observation was made: “If you’re on Twitter a lot, and the people you know best are on Twitter a lot, it’s easy to delude yourself into thinking that the whole world is there with you.” This piece of insight is quite relevant to people and organisations that are in the business of marketing stuff through all forms of media. It seems, statistics gleaned from the frequency something is mentioned in social media does not correlate strongly with more broad-based measures of popularity and viewership…
In Philippine politics where public relations consulting and buzz creation is big business, the equivalent of this observation had already been condfirmed by the results of the 2013 mid-term elections where candidates vilified by “netizens” and social media “experts” actually emerged at the top of the winners’ heap in terms of number of actual votes attracted. Indeed, the most prominent themes being trumpeted in the Philippines’ social media scene revolved around politicians’ campaign grandstanding “epal” and domination of political dynasties.
Most people work or go to school all day, and when they get home, many of them just want to flop down on the couch in front of the TV (or maybe read a book, or do some knitting, or chat face-to-face or on the phone with friends and family). The last thing on their minds is logging into Twitter to yammer.
And that includes yammering about their favorite TV shows. The Wall Street Journal has compared the “Twitter ratings” compiled by Nielsen through its new SocialGuide service to TV ratings, and noted a big disconnect between some of TV’s most popular shows and so-called second-screen viewing — which in this case means people tweeting about the shows they’re watching. The most-tweeted shows, it turns out, generally aren’t among the most popular.
Networks, advertisers, and social-media services including Twitter and Facebook (FB) are trying to capitalize on the “second screen” phenomenon,” but it appears that, even if they are successful, the rewards will be marginal at best.
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In hindsight, it turns out that these “issues” weren’t really the important ones. The underlying substance seems to have been lost as one social media frenzy after another was kicked up around what went on to become trivial boutique outrage fads. For one thing, use of social media for anything more worthwhile than idle gossip, self-important shoutouts, and distributing the latest “leaked” sex video isn’t really as widespread as many people think among Filipinos (the “delusion” amongst the “politically passionate” that everyone is “with you” in Twitter as similarly pointed out in the Fortune article ). For another, unlike television, the Internet has hundreds of thousands — if not, millions — of channels to tune in to. The chances of the average schmoe latching on to the right one is very slim. More so, considering popularity has never been a good indicator of the actual value or validity of an idea.
The Year 2013 is a case-in-point. Epal and political dynasties are non-issues now as the (so far) more fundamental driver of political outcomes has emerged — the arbitrary disbursement of discretionary funds to public officials. Whether it is the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), or any other quaintly acronymed notion of spending public funds cooked up by the government to justify its black-box budgeting habits, pork, who doles it out, and who gets it is Philippine politics’ real locomotive.
Did social media exhibit the prescience to pick this up when it counted? Not by a mile. In fact, thievery surrounding pork barrel funds has been around since time immemorial, at least as far back as 1996 when the Inquirer published one of the earliest exposés about it. Yet, between that year and the present, pork barrel has hardly made it into the radar of the country’s self-described intelligentsia. Instead, the wrong arguments resonated in our intellectually-bankrupt society as always. In the 2009-2010 presidential campaign, social media and its clique of “thought leaders” were in their usual form at the forefront of frenzy engineering bolstering traditional media’s efforts to serve up the wrong ideas to a gullible public and all but contributing to the election of “Pork Barrel King” himself, current President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III.
And now, most recently, people lament what appears to be a consistent failure of activism. Quite notably, the last two “million people marches” that did not convincingly project the people’s “power” and “outrage” over pork barrel thievery were hatched and propagated through social media. But I say they appear to be failures because we might want to consider the possibility that we define success in activism the wrong way. Numbers in crowds gathering at rallies have become the de facto measure of success in activism today. Perhaps because numbers were what defined what are considered to be the most successful ones in recent Philippine history, the 1986 EDSA people power “revolution” that ousted former President Ferdinand Marcos and the 2001 “EDSA 2” street circus that forced out former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada.
Indeed, perhaps we are judging 21st Century Philippine activism the way marketers evaluate television program ratings — because activism nowadays is really a media production and event for many. The organisers for the most part are media “practioners” — social media practitioners, to be really precise. Indeed, much of the way rallies and activist events are organised nowadays mirror the processes and thinking involved in producing a good Filipino teleserye. Plot, cast of characters, media briefings, and cults of personality are their main collateral. The point becomes the event in and of itself and the message is all but lost.
We need to evolve beyond slogans and circuses and develop better tools, better approaches, and better thinking to get conrete achievements chalked up on our activist scoreboards. The message of our activist undertakings need to be reinstated in its proper place — at the foreground of any “movement”. At the background should be the context of these messages — the circumstances, issues, and ideas that provide the right perspective to how we regard these messages. All the rest — the noise that dominates today’s activist events — the sideshow acts and “practitioners” that squabble with and one-up one another over irrelevant and inconsequential details should all be hauled into the backstage where they belong.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.