Social media platforms are being increasingly scrutinized in the lead-up to the Philippine elections following several controversies that have raised the spectre of disinformation and its impact on the outcome.
Recently, Facebook took down the account of the spokesperson for Ferdinand Marcos Jr., a presidential candidate and son of the former dictator, mistaking the account for an impostor. Facebook also flagged several posts from the state-run information platform Philippine News Agency (PNA).
These developments raise concerns about the role of social media platforms in the elections and the potential for platform manipulation. Experts believe that the prevalence of fake news, coupled with the lack of regulation around internet content, has the potential to undermine democracy in the Philippines.
Current Vice President and opposition leader Leni Robredo has been vocal about the need for social media accountability, saying that platforms should be held responsible for housing disinformation.
Robredo is also running for the presidency, along with candidate Manny Pacquiao, who has called for creators of fake news to be punished. Manila city mayor Francisco Domagoso has also called for social media platforms to be held liable for allowing fraudulent accounts on their platforms.
Marcos Jr., who has been absent in recent debates, claims organic social media presence. However, his camp has been under scrutiny for allegedly using social media platforms to spread fake news about his father’s rule in an effort to appeal to voters.
In a study, the Digital Public Pulse (DPP) analyzed Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter, and found five indicators of potential platform manipulation:
- Highly influential accounts, particularly on Twitter and Facebook, that have been taken down or suspended after they were scanned but before they were analyzed
- Obscure accounts that were most shared and interacted with on Facebook and Twitter
- Entertainment, feature, and other supposedly non-political Facebook pages that shared a significant number of political content that packaged partisan messaging
- Content with inflammatory and hostile attacks on aspirants, opposition, and the media that have been taken down across Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube after they have generated massive views and engagement
- Facebook and YouTube accounts that copied the practices of the media and other institutions to make themselves look credible.
Troll farms, which are groups of people paid to generate online content that supports a particular political viewpoint, have especially become a major concern over the last decade. These groups often use bots to spread their content and create a false sense of consensus around their candidate or issue.
While social media platforms have the potential to be a powerful force for political change, it is clear that there are also significant risks associated with its use.
According to Japhet Quitzon, Center for Strategic and International Studies, social media is a double-edged sword that can be used to mobilize people for positive outcomes, but it can also be used to spread disinformation, sow discord, and weaken democratic institutions.
“The right balance of outrage, virality, misinformation, and trolling might be enough to tip the scales in any candidate’s favor as only a bare plurality is required to win the presidency,” he said in an article entitled “Social Media Misinformation and the 2022 Philippine Elections.”