EDITORIAL NOTES

Social media's role in engaging the youth in Philippine elections: Philippine Daily Inquirer

Residents wait for their turn to vote in the presidential election at a polling station in Davao, on the southern island of Mindanao on May 9, 2016.
Residents wait for their turn to vote in the presidential election at a polling station in Davao, on the southern island of Mindanao on May 9, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

It’s said that young people are preoccupied mainly with leisurely stuff and hardly with political affairs.

The voter turnout on Election Day says the opposite.

And if the frenzied activity in social media ”both the reasoned and the hysterical” is any indication, they’re right there in the thick of things. 

The more engaging memes and sites of the tech-savvy on the elections, though lighthearted, display the youth’s inordinate capacity to be in the moment, their visual (as opposed to textual) orientation, their wit, and, notably, their diversity.

There was the “Duriam Chronicles,” a manga-style send-up of the apparent mutual admiration society of presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte and the cellar-dwelling Miriam Defensor Santiago. 

The stylised image from illustrator Yvonne Abuda was released on Election Day; it quickly drew 13,000 reactions, was soon seen and shared by thousands more, triggering manga-style character designs for the other candidates. 

There was #RP69FanFic, the not safe for work (NSFW) fan fiction featuring a number of the presidentiables’ children, a polarising but red-hot series of tweets. 

Photographs of ink-stained fingers were posted by young Filipinos nationwide as a proud sign of their participation in the polls. 

There was a battle of the hashtags, with #LabanLeni clashing with #VPRecount. No one backed down. 

When a candidate was attacked, or martial law was dismissed as a “thingy,” the backlash was swift and fierce. 

The high voter turnout (81 per cent) and the fact that millennials made up more than half of the 54-million electorate led to a busy day online. 

This Election Day saw tweets deleted, Twitter accounts deactivated, profuse apologies on Facebook, and many people unfollowed and unfriended in a smorgasbord of social media activity that became a show parallel to the election action itself. 

Of course, not all this online madness is all shiny and bright. In his May 12 Inquirer commentary, “Truth: the biggest loser in the elections” (22,100 shares at this writing), medical anthropologist Gideon Lasco captures the grim state of social media and the crying need to upgrade the level of discourse in this acknowledged realm of the young. 

The Internet promised to open up a wealth of information at people’s fingertips. But over the past few months, we have seen it open up a barrage of lies. 

Moreover, people have become more sophisticated in spreading misinformation in social media. We have seen how satire is taken seriously, and serious posts are taken lightly. 

Social media has not made people more gullible, but it has exposed how gullible people are,” Lasco wrote. 

“More than these personal steps, we should also take collective action. We need to hold websites and Facebook pages to account for sacrificing truth for the sake of virality ”or some darker agenda.” 

The presidential campaign has seen a shift in tactics from the analog to the digital, from the old-fashioned to the state-of-the-art. 

The presumptive president clearly had social-media-savvy operators in his crew. 

Santiago warned as early as last December: “We expect that all of us (candidates) will be vilified, which is why it is important that we use social media to see the truth in this campaign period.” 

The campaign in the social media had the youth as moving target. 

In February, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. tied with the then-leading VP candidate Francis Escudero in the Social Weather Stations survey ”a feat largely attributed to millennials milling for the dictator’s son and namesake, as well as those who allegedly lived through martial law and now pronounce it the “golden age.” 

On the other hand, the multimedia People Power Experiential Museum was conceived to appeal to those same millennials, to present the horrors of the dictatorship, or, as Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma put it, “the experience of martial law and the struggle of courageous Filipinos to awaken the sleeping masses.” 

Things are moving at breakneck speed. 

Social media is a powerful catalyst for the engagement of the collective, but particularly and critically ”the young". 

It is now a battleground of ideas, where vigilance and principle go toe-to-toe with manipulation and forgetfulness. 

The political participation of young people is an encouraging turn of events, but the seemingly effortless yielding to the dark side is disappointing and ultimately frightening. 
-----------------------
The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.