Social media for social change? Think again, Philippines


social-media-bandwagonThe more I hear people say that social media is going to be a “game-changer” for social good, or however they want to say it, the more I get convinced that it’s actually not going to happen.

Social media is commonly delineated in scope to refer to Facebook, Twitter and in some cases Youtube, no doubt three of the most popular platforms here in the Philippines for people to post and “discuss” things online.

For example, while senator Miriam Santiago was in the news recently for arguing why the next president of the Philippines should be a woman, she was actually quoted for something else just a few days prior. She claimed that social media will be a big influencing factor in the upcoming 2016 national elections.

“It is entirely possible that the 2016 presidential and senatorial elections will be determined by social media,” said the senator, who is frequently trending in social media.

Santiago, who ran for president in 1992 and whose presidential election protest was never resolved, predicted that because of the internet and cable TV, there will be fewer rallies and motorcades.

“The crooked candidates are already hiring professionals to dominate and maybe even control the social media. But such is the power of social media that netizens will be able to beat the candidates with unexplained wealth and their criminal campaign contributors,” the senator said.

Furthermore, Santiago predicted that social media is where the future for political campaign waging lies:

In succeeding elections, she predicts there will be fewer rallies and motorcades since the political campaign will be staged on social media. “Today, social media has changed the rules of the game. Anyone can participate in the extended debate to distinguish the truth from the propaganda of moneyed candidates,” the senator said.

Santiago urged on the youth to continue to use social media to fight candidates with “immoral wealth.” The senator also said that the best test for the 2016 presidential elections would be a presidential debate.

“Today is a far cry from the past. I endorse a presidential debate, because the best test for leadership is intellectual, not financial,” Santiago concluded.

Yet senator Santiago is forgetting one thing: two candidates in the 2013 senatorial elections were pilloried on social media, yet they won seats comfortably, and in spite of it: Grace Poe and Nancy Binay. So how will the good senator go about explaining that?

In my opinion, one of the first questions that will always crop up when anyone talks about the impact of social media is this: how much of the Filipino population is actually, and actively connected to the internet? How many, out of almost a hundred million actually use Facebook or Twitter?

Aside from that, another question that one must ask is what exactly do Filipinos use social media for? It would be rather ideal if using it to discuss issues of consequence was actually common. But alas, you can bet that Filipinos more often use it to grandstand, advertise, play games, watch videos of their favorite celebrities, and even flood pages with selfies gratuitously.

Just like many social media “mavens”, senator Santiago, it seems, has fallen into the trap of overestimating the impact that social media has on the bigger environment that it is a part of. If there’s anything to be said about the quality of discussion that takes place in social media, it is that it is getting harder and harder to filter out the noise and fluff.

Katrina Stuart Santiago wrote an article in The Manila Times almost two weeks ago about the miseducation that has been happening in social media:

“If there is anything that is true about social media, no matter our celebration of its democratization of information and opinion, it is this: discourse that can change minds rarely happens here.

Twitter is for grand sweeping statements in 140-characters; Facebook is for longer statuses, even longer Notes. Changing people’s minds through these venues, I’ve found, is far from easy, because these spaces make for short one-liners, sometimes for questions, sometimes in support of something or someone, that mostly serve to spread news rather than to dwell on an issue.

And hashtags have proven unwieldy if it is to be viewed as a way to organize information and/or a way to generate a discussion about one thing. The “#walangpasok” hashtag, instead of functioning as an organized list of schools that have announced suspensions, becomes a display as well of students doing the selfie, because, well, walang pasok. The “#reliefPH” hashtag is also bogged down by these photos and tweets about celebrities helping out, or of people taking photos of themselves helping out. As such, one needs to cull from the information under this hashtag to actually find the ones that are pleas for help or calls for assistance.”

I’ve described Twitter in the past as a 140-character prison. Facebook can be useful for finding people whom you have not kept in touch with for a long time, but at the same time has turned into a platform for narcissists and other people who love showing off every minute detail of their life.

Filipinos who are engaged in social media are not immune to thinking that once they’ve tweeted or retweeted something, or shared a status or post in Facebook, that they’ve somehow contributed significantly to the national “debate”. Ina Santiago had something to say about this too:

“I think doing only Facebook and Twitter is just too easy. It’s easy to have an opinion when all you want is to get the likes and shares that you will necessarily get if your thoughts are non-contrarian, and if you have a keen sense of the bandwagon of ‘public’ opinion that is on social media.

It has become too easy, this belief that you are already a “gamechanger” and “thought leader” because you have so and so number of followers on Twitter and this many friends on Facebook. I’d like to think that for one’s opinions to actually matter, for one’s words to actually change another person’s mind, it will take more than 140 characters and a Facebook status.

Because that is how it has always been, yes? People used to create discourse by having long conversations about the things that matter. And we can talk to these kids who think the world of Marcos in long-form essays that do not dismiss them as just another bunch of loyalists who don’t know what they’re talking about. If they don’t read these pieces, then it will be on the Internet forever, as proof that someone responded to them in the proper form and venue.

In truth, to imagine that 140 characters and Facebook statuses can change people’s minds and can take the place of honest-to-goodness discourse is just delusional.”

The quality of “debate” that has been taking place in this country has always been questionable, whether online or offline. First off, the question is really whether Filipinos understand what debates are really all about. The wrong, populist, emotionally-appealing arguments, and the views of the poorly-educated have always taken the spotlight here in the Philippines. For serious issues to be discussed to a wider audience, they often have to be made politically correct, and the “right” personalities have to be taken onboard. That’s small minds for you. And you often have to sugarcoat what you say, lest you “offend” the ultra-thin and hypersensitive sensibilities of Filipinos.

Social media merely amplifies what is so wrong with such debate.

Again, we will go back to the question of what Filipinos do on social media. Miriam Santiago also urged Filipinos to weaponize social media…

The senator also urged the students to “fight back against social evils” through social media.

“Be the tide that will cleanse the Philippines of the corrupt and the useless. Weaponize social media. Fire up your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram accounts on demanding social change. You can do this by posting content that does not only inform, but also entertains and motivates,” she said.

Santiago encouraged them to create “memes” against thieves in public service and then “create infographics showing how much embezzled money by government officials could have been used to fund social services and public works.”

“Learn graphic design, videography, and programming language. This way, you will be more equipped in creating riveting content that will arouse, organize, and mobilize the masses,” she said.

Sure, Filipinos will create memes and show outrage, but that’s about it. Pwede-na-yan, I’ve contributed to the national “debate”. Because being thick-skinned and not giving a damn about critics are mandatory skills to be a politician here in the Philippines, the impact of such outrage has always been dubious. And now with the Cybercrime law having online libel as a clause, it seems that more people will be even cowed into silence online.

We can look to Manila Times columnist Ben Kritz for a few other things about the future of online activism, and consequently, the future of social media as a means to effect social change:

He has quoted Malcolm Gladwell, as seen below:

As Gladwell himself pointed out, online activism, despite its handicaps, is not totally ineffective, but it seems the range of issues to which it can be applied successfully is discouragingly narrow; correcting someone’s error against the social norm, such as the story he relates concerning the cell phone thief, is one thing but overthrowing a political system is another. Online activism works when it does not require too much of the participant, and its impact reflects the energy put into it; Hosni Mubarak was not, contrary to popular belief, removed from power by angry blog posts and pic badges on Facebook profiles, but by large-scale, coordinated, and sometimes violent confrontations in Egypt’s streets.

During the time of the Million Person/Scrap Pork protests last year, he had pointed out how the concept of social media revolution had a short lifespan:

Social media as a means to effect the change this country needs had an incredibly short life-span, and is now dead. It may have gotten the ball rolling, but its primary use now is to simply telegraph every idea and planned move of protestors to a hostile government desperate to stay in power and more than capable of using the public’s own technological tools against them. If the public is serious about ending generations of abuse by their government, they must find other means to organize themselves. In a sense, though, that’s exactly what this country needs; real change, tearing down something bad and building something better, can’t be done without getting one’s hands dirty. Consider it a test of the people’s true commitment to self-determination; are you willing to stand up and face your future, or just Facebook it?

There is no other way. While the concept of yet another EDSA is tired, old, quite embarrassing, and frankly, belongs to a museum as a 1980’s relic, Filipinos must find a way to get their government to stand up and listen to their collective voice. Here’s what we’re dissatisfied about; now listen to us and shape up, or else. And yet the government has never been really afraid of, much less accountable to, the people. Filipinos simply have short tempers, shorter memories, and even shorter attention spans. As long as Filipinos get their fix of bread and circuses, it seems, then, that the apathy will simply continue on.

Think carefully about what you want your future to look like, Philippines.

As in, very carefully.


[Photo courtesy: Epik Consulting]

12 Replies to “Social media for social change? Think again, Philippines”

  1. Given GRP has tried and failed for over a decade to use social media media for social change, I concur with FallenAngel.
    It is not the messengers fault, but the receiver. Most filipinos are just so dumb and shallow to accept any message that involves any kind of critical thinking.. Sigh.

    1. Siri, you speak the truth! So many dumb and shallow pinoys and pinays; such contemptible idiots… And the way they live their lives, as if life stops and starts at their convenience, those miserable pieces of shit.

      We really need to do better if we want to stop being the Sick Laughingstocks of Asia. Because frankly, that’s what we are now. To those of you who block the way forward, we say: get the fuck out of the way.

  2. I think some people overestimated the role of social media in events like the Arab Spring and the ouster of the Tunisian president then. I think social media was only one of the communication devices used to bring people together. Of course, they phoned each other and agreed to meet and started a rally.

    But then the rally wasn’t the only thing that made ousters successful. Even the military and insiders in the Tunisian government had a role in removing a president. It’s often backflipping insiders that makes ousters work. I believe that was true with our own Edsa 1 as well.

  3. Social Media “can” be a tool for change. It is like a knife. You can use it to cut food to cook, for your dinner. Or, cut the throat of your neighbor. It depends on how you use it. Yes, it “can” be a tool of change…to combat the monopoly of information of Oligarchs’ owned TV and information networks. Filipinos who are well informed; no matter where they are; can inform their fellow Filipinos. And thru “Words of Mouth”; they “can” be spread to the masses to the grass root level.

    It is now the Age of Information Technology. Let us all rise up to the “Renaissance of Thoughts”, to improve ourselves, and our country. It was in Florence, Italy…where the Rennaisance began; that got us out of the Dark Ages; where the Roman Catholic Church, was the only source of information. anybody contradicting the Church,then; were burned on the Stake. Will we make our own Florence, Italy? Who will be the Medici? Who will be the Leonardo Da Vinci? Who will be the Galileo?…etc…

  4. A good craftsman does not blame his tools. Social media is like alcohol. It amplifies what is already there . The vain and shallow were like that even before cam phones. You can do any MIT course on line for free should you choose to. You won’t get a diploma but you will get the knowledge. But excuse me but I have to prep my mirror for the next selfie.

  5. 25 years old – happy birthday internet.

    Tim berners-lee comment “i didn’t expect so many cats”,( or selfies i guess)

    I hope someone will at least use the technology come 2016 to conduct independent on line surveys to counter tge propaganda and pre-conditioning of sws/pulse asia. Easy and low cost whether through sites like surveymonkey etc, or to design one’s own.

  6. The biggest disappointment is that internet and mobile/cloud technology has not been adopted on a larger scale to provide low cost creative educational solutions, or used effectively for social change, particularly in 3rd world/developing countries.
    Solutions exist, and are being utilised, but not relative to its potential.
    Internet has changed many areas/aspects of life
    I – information – a library in your pocket
    C – communication – a global village
    E – entertainment – the key driver
    E – entrepreneurship – new industries/opportunities

    The 3rd ‘E’ – education is the lost opportunity, whether to make education more accessible, to complement scarce quality teaching resources, and/or to foster a culture of life-long learning.

    No need to pay 80,000 $ for an MBA. a free app on your mobile phone can become your managers toolkit.

    The same lack of positive impact applies to social change, and maybe the take-away is that the only agenda of a government is to control/censor internet which it only sees as a threat, and which also represents a technology it does not understand, rather than exploit its use for national benefit, transparency, democracy, growth etc.

    The web is becoming a modern day battlefield and now we are seeing the emergence of the dark web.

    Whatever happens in the next 25 years, one thing is sure – it will not be anything like anyone can imagine.

    “May you live in interesting times”

  7. Selfies have now given way to bikini-me’s as those with no talent have to resort increasingly to less clothes in order to gain more public exposure, and remain ‘relevant’!.

    The masa follow suit, and shed any pretence at style or class in the desperate need for attention to compensate for a vacuous life, low self-esteem, and no achivements or aspirations.

    Talent is replaced by a boob job, but the age old profession lives on in cyberspace.

  8. Social media is a tool for social change indeed but the Filipino masses will just waste its potential. Filipinos are more interested in selfies, discussing showbiz issues (like the Vhong case) not of national importance or spread viral videos like the amalayer incident.

  9. I’ve been wanting to comment every good article I read here in GRP, that its a damn shame not that many filipinos would be reading anyways, for fear of discouraging the authors. The technology is there, but as with everything else in the country, we are still so far behind. If only there’s a way to deliver the message from here, out to the masses, on their own court, of course in a more condensed form. Flyers, posters…I don’t know. They just have to be visible. More memes, vines and tweets to catch public attention. Specially come election time.

    Spread the word. Change is here.

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