Opportunities and Pitfalls, Fake News and Transparency
This is the conclusion of a two-part special report. Click here for the first part.
CEBU CITY, Philippines – Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Katie (not her real name) wants to take part in the national elections this 2022.
For the first time, the 23-year-old freelance worker will be casting her ballot this May 9, 2022.
“Honestly, I want to exercise my right to vote. I could’ve done this the moment I was eligible to vote but didn’t. Now, I’m being more proactive in that aspect,” she said.
Katie is a registered voter of Cebu, the Philippines’ most vote-rich province.
She is also among the country’s growing pool of ‘young adult’ voters whose total number stood at 32.4 million as of October 18, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The youth sector, including first-time voters who are at least 18 years old, comprise half of the 62 million new registered voters the poll body recorded as of October 1.
These figures will likely increase after the Comelec approved to extend voters registration from October 8 to October 30.
In Cebu, the Comelec’s Election Records and Statistics Department recorded a total of 3,288,778 eligible voters for the National Elections this May 2022. But the bureau was unable to provide a similar dataset that groups voters by age and sex.
A representative told CDN Digital over the phone that their office is still generating the verified and official list of Registered Voters by Age Group and Sex for the May 2022 National Elections.
Looking back at the May 2019 Midterm Elections, however, the youth already comprised nearly half of the entire population of registered voters in Cebu.
Data furnished to CDN Digital by the Election Records and Statistics Department of Comelec showed that voters in Cebu belonging to the age group 18 to 34 years old accounted for 43.9 percent of the entire voting population.
This meant that out of the 3,082,620 voters recorded here three years ago, approximately 1.4 million of these are young adults, aged 18 to 34 years old.
Flight to Digitalization, Reliance on Social Media
Today’s younger demographics are ‘digital natives’, various experts – both local and international – noted.
Germany-based market research firm Statista found out that 86 percent of internet users surveyed in the Philippines were aged 18 to 24 years old. Only 14 percent were 55 years old and above, they added.
Born in the age where there’s wide and easy access to the internet, and rapid exchange of information, young adults these days are quick to adapt to digitalization and rely heavily on social media.
Katie, for her part, prefers to do her research on candidates – their background, accomplishments, and what other people think of them – online since it’s convenient for her. She cited government websites, mainstream online news, and social media platforms such as Facebook and Reddit as her top sources.
“But I tread them very cautiously… On average and normal days, I use social media probably between five to seven hours a day,” she explained.
College student Jun Vincent Sararaña, 18, is a first-time voter from Cebu. Like Katie, he turns to the internet and social media for information related to the upcoming elections. And does so with a critical mindset.
“Daghan gyud sa social media pero daghan sad dinha dili tinuud. For example lang kanang imong makit-an nimo sa Facebook nga mao daw ning nabuhat ani nga pamilyaha pero inig basa nimo sa uban sources, kanang legit gyud, di diay sakto,” Jun pointed out.
(We read about a lot of things on social media and many of these are also untrue. For example, you read on Facebook what this particular family claims to have accomplished but legitimate sources would say otherwise.)
Jun believed bets in the 2022 polls should be active on social networking platforms to get more chances of winning while for Katie, they have little to no impact at all.
However, both shared the same sentiments that social media could be leveraged as vital assets for campaigning.
Campaigning on Social Media
Last July, Comelec raised the possibility of regulating campaigns made on the internet, particularly social media.
Political ads published on social media will be regulated and included in computing a candidate’s campaign expenses for the May 9, 2022, elections, Comelec announced.
The poll body has anticipated that candidates will be turning to social media due to existing restrictions, such as prohibiting the conduct of mass gatherings, due to threats of the COVID-19.
“There’s a lot of reliance on social media as a campaign platform, which is difficult for Comelec to compute in terms of campaign expenses. We are hoping that experts will be able to help us with that,” Commissioner Rowena Guanzon told reporters in Manila.
By November, Comelec announced that only websites, blogs, and social media pages registered by candidates and political parties may run campaign ads for next year’s elections. In addition, candidates will have to disclose which ads were paid and who funded them.
These are just among the policies they rolled out under their ‘expanded social media regulation’ that aims to govern election-related campaigns of candidates and political parties in the digital realm.
“As in past elections, Comelec required candidates and political parties or coalitions to register all their “accounts, websites, blogs and/or other social media pages” with the poll body’s education and information department,” portions of a report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer stated.
CDN Digital has asked several local bets for their comments on Comelec’s proposition.
Aspiring Cebu Governor and Former Tourism Sec. Joseph Felix Mari ‘Ace’ Durano said he welcomed the proposal from Comelec.
Cebu 3rd District Pablo John ‘PJ’ Garcia, for his part, doubted the feasibility of regulating campaign-related ads on social media.
“Good luck with that,” Garcia said.
Comelec also hoped social media giants like Meta Platforms, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, and Twitter would assist them in doing so.
Facebook Ads Library
In the Philippines, Facebook is the second most-used social media platform, next to YouTube. Statista estimated that there were around 76 million Facebook users here in the country in 2020.
Facebook has a feature called Ads Library.
Launched in 2018, Ads Library was part of Facebook’s promise to increase transparency following controversies surrounding the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections, tech authority TechCrunch reported.
To recall, there were claims that individuals, groups, and event private firms used the internet and social media as a ‘coordinated attempt’ to influence the outcome of elections not only in the U.S. but other countries also, including the Philippines apparently.
This subject remains an active debate among experts and average netizens.
Facebook Ads Library stores ads ran across all Facebook Products. Anyone can access and extract more information about ads on Facebook, for free, as long as they have an active and existing Facebook account.
“Transparency is a priority for us to help prevent interference in elections, so the Ad Library also shows you additional information about these ads, such as who funded the ad, a range of how much they spent, and the reach of the ad across multiple demographics. We store these ads in the library for 7 years,” Facebook stated on their website.
CDN Digital has obtained a CSV file from Facebook Ads Library named PH Lifelong Advertisers. It included official pages of some of Cebu’s elected officials, and those running in the May 2022 elections.
Based on the file, a total of 18 Facebook pages, both active and deleted, relating to Cebuano politicians, political groups and figureheads ran ads on Facebook, from August 2020 to December 9, 2021.
However, ads published on Facebook may vary. This means that not all ads published on Facebook and recorded on the Ads Library are purely election-related advertisements.
For the purpose of this special report, CDN Digital ranked the Facebook pages by Cebuano politicians, candidates, and political groups according to the total amount they spent in the past 16 months.
Topping the list of Cebuano politicians and candidates in the 2022 elections is Rep. Paz Radaza of Lapu-Lapu City. Radaza’s official Facebook page spent a total of P334,134.
Rep. Pablo John “PJ” Garcia of Cebu’s 3rd District came second with a total amount of P303,967 spent on Facebook Ads during the same period. He was followed by fellow One Cebu member and 5th District Rep. Duke Frasco.
Frasco’s Facebook page ran ads that cost a total of P153,021.
In Cebu City, Kasambagan Barangay Captain Franklyn Ong, who is also an ex-officio Cebu City Councilor and running for Vice Mayor next year, ranked fifth after spending a total of P105,343.
Facebook Ads Library will also generate details about ads run by pages and accounts that were deleted. For example, the official Facebook page of the late Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella ranked 4th after spending a total of P141,345.
For the complete list, see the accompanying graphics below.
CDN Digital also interviewed Rep. Garcia, and former tourism Secretary Durano, separately, on their thoughts in maximizing social media channels to promote their candidacies, and as to why they decide to run ads on social media platforms like Facebook.
For Garcia, he often uses Facebook and Instagram to let the public know about his programs and plans. Garcia, a reelectionist, will be running unopposed next year.
He only needed one vote to be formally elected and proclaimed as the winner.
Durano uses Facebook to build connections and to promote his candidacy.
Durano, who was the Secretary for the Department of Tourism (DOT) under the administration of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, came out of political retirement to run for governor. He will be facing incumbent Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, PJ’s sister.
When asked about why they decided to deploy ads on Facebook, Garcia said, it was a cheaper tool to reach out to the public on a massive scale, as compared to traditional platforms like newspapers and broadcasting channels.
“As a public servant, it is my duty to inform my constituents and the public at large who pay for my salary what exactly I am doing with their trust. Whether I’m worth the money,” said Garcia.
“Some public officials spend on public relations managers who get their stories into newspapers, TV or radio. Some have media people on their payroll. I use Facebook. If you divide the P300,000 by the 16 months over which it was spent, that’s less than P20,000 per month, significantly less than what others are paying for their PR (public relations) managers, radio time, and personalities and ads,” he continued.
Durano said his team paid P1,000 to run ads, including one pertaining to a jingle contest, on the Facebook page promoting his candidacy and that of his running mate, reelectionist Cebu Vice Gov. Hilario Davide III.
“Social media, like Facebook, is actually a great platform to build relationships and connections. But that’s it. It’s not enough to deepen that connection and gain the trust of everyone (because) that requires more effort. Culturally, naanad gyud ta makakita sa actual nga tawo (nga atong butaran),” Durano said.
But their page, named Ace Durano-Junjun Davide, was deleted after it was attacked by massive reporting. The page, which already acquired at least 15,000 followers since its creation last October, went offline last November.
Durano’s camp claimed the move was made by trolls that attacked the page by mass reporting it for certain violations such as graphic violence, hate speech, harassment, bullying, sexual exploitation, and nudity.
The former Cabinet member said his communications team was able to dispute these accusations and are now in the process of reviving their page. But in the meantime, they created a different page to “keep their momentum.”
“Fortunately, Facebook was quick to respond to our dispute. Because the page did not commit any of the violations reported,” Durano added.
Social Media’s ‘Dark Side’
Every opportunity will always come with a threat. And in the case of social media as a channel to promote a candidate’s bid for the 2022 elections, threats usually come in the form of misinformation, ‘fake news’, and historical revisionism.
Social media’s popularity as an instrument for campaigning during elections season already began way back in 2015, according to several studies and previous articles.
Since then, experts and netizens were quick to point out the rapid proliferation of fake news, disinformation, and history being revised. Eventually, calls to penalize individuals and groups responsible for lying and intentionally misleading the public started to grow.
A recent study underscoring the gravity of rampant misinformation in the Philippines found out that people who doubted the credibility of mainstream media and other authoritative sources are more prone to falling victim to ‘fake news’.
The Boses, Opinyon, Siyasat, at Siyensya para sa Pilipinas (Boses Pilipinas) surveyed over 20,000 individuals, all of whom are registered voters in the May 9, 2022, elections about fake and real news. Their findings published in 2021 state that those who find social media sites like Facebook “a very trustworthy source of information” scored poorly in differentiating between fake and legitimate news.
While acknowledging the multiple opportunities found on social media when it comes to the upcoming elections, local candidates here urged voters to be extra careful when consuming information from these platforms.
Both Garcia and Durano agreed these are the major disadvantages of the reliance on social media.
“We have to distinguish between opinions and facts, what’s true and not. (Otherwise it) will lead to conflict and disagreement. (Because of these threats), social media can be really divisive,” Durano said.
“Because it is free, cheap, and readily accessible, it is also most vulnerable to abuse by those who wish to use it for less than noble ends. And since there is relatively minimal regulation, the good that social media does is oftentimes overrun by the bad… Verify, verify, verify. And look for telltale signs of misinformation. If you notice, some people and families have spent a lot of time and money to revise history and whitewash their image. And some have actually succeeded,” Garcia pointed out.
Social Media this May 9, 2022
Elections day is still five months away.
As far as Katie and Jun are concerned, they still have more than enough time to choose their candidates. Both said they wanted leaders who are true to their words, have good track records on public service, and are impartial.
They also believed that social media, as an ecosystem on the internet, will not fade soon.
One site may go obsolete but innovation and the fast-paced tech race will always give birth to multiple new ones. And whichever platform people frequent, they are not surprised to stumble upon posts and ads related to politics and the elections.
But as hyperconnectivity within the community increases, the two, first-time voters admit they prefer keeping their political preferences as a personal and private matter.
“(I find political posts on social media) at times enlightening. Mostly intrusive and polarizing. I personally prefer making decisions relating to politics as privately as possible because people like to shame other people for not having the same stance in politics as they do, especially in social media,” explained Katie.
“Like make your case, convince people why XX is better than YY and ZZ that’s the whole point of politics, but don’t go undermining other’s choices and thinking they’re inferior because of it. Shame is not a good way to make people listen,” she continued.
Jun, for his part, hoped that despite the issues arising from social media, this coming May 9, 2022 elections would be a fair and clean one.
“Labi na social media, gubot gyud na basta elections (ang hisgutan). Pero hopefully hapsay ang piniliay. Way mag minaro,” said Jun.
(On social media, political discussions end up being chaotic. But hopefully, the elections will remain orderdely. No one will try to cheat.)
- Pazzibugan, D. Z. (2021, July 12). Comelec to regulate campaign spending on social media. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved December 12, 2021, from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1458439/comelec-to-regulate-campaign-spending-on-social-media.
- Pazzibugan, D. Z. (2021, November 19). Comelec expands rules on pol ads run on social media. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved December 12, 2021, from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1517074/comelec-expands-rules-on-pol-ads-run-on-social-media.
- Constine, J. (2019, March 28). Facebook launches searchable Transparency Library of all active ads. TechCrunch. Retrieved December 12, 2021, from https://techcrunch.com/2019/03/28/facebook-ads-library/
- Mendoza, J. E. (2021, November 17). Study: Duterte fans, folks who trust Facebook for info tend to believe fake news . INQUIRER.NET. Retrieved December 12, 2021, from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/1516452/study-duterte-fans-folks-who-trust-facebook-for-info-tend-to-believe-fake-news.
- Published by Statista Research Department, & 12, A. (2021, August 12). Number of social network users in the Philippines 2018-2023. Statista. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/489180/number-of-social-network-users-in-philippines/
- Published by Statista Research Department, & 13, A. (2021, August 13). Philippines: Number of Facebook Users. Statista. Retrieved December 14, 2021, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/490455/number-of-philippines-facebook-users / dcb
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