“Findings will be presented tomorrow.”
Some politicians have been running stealth campaigns for years on social media, and this may make voters “susceptible to manipulation” and “undermine the integrity of election process,” a team of communication researchers said.
Because of social media’s affordability and extensive reach, election candidates are using them more and traditional media less. In order to describe, analyze, and explain how political candidates are using social media in relation to the 2022 national elections, the Philippine Media Monitoring Laboratory (PMM), a consortium of communication, data science, and political science researchers, launched their Digital Public Pulse (DPP) project in October last year.
DPP team leaders Fatima Gaw and Jon Benedik Bunquin, assistant professors at the University of the Philippines-Diliman College of Mass Communication, are presenting their consolidated findings tomorrow, February 2, in an online webinar on Philippine election actors and networks and social media.
Their research, entitled “Cross-platform analysis of Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube,” answers several questions, among them: who are the actors who dominate and get marginalized in social media conversations? What are the online campaign strategies related to coordinated messaging and posting? What is the role of influencers in the 2022 presidential elections?
The professors emphasized that the public needs to understand “how information moves in social media.”
Over the past month, the researchers have released their findings per platform:
YouTube (Jan. 12): Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s YT channels and those of his campaigners and supporters, “spread across at least three communities,” were seen to grow in influence over election-related content, collectively accounting for the biggest network at 38%. Mainstream news media comprise 28% of the network.
Isko Moreno Domagoso was found to enter through entertainment and Manny Pacquiao from sports to politics, while Ping Lacson and Leni Robredo have minimal YT presence.
Some 2,057 YT channels and their videos were collected in the first two quarters of the study, from May to October 2021. During this time, the networks expanded from 650 to 1,407 and their connections from 6,000 to 18,000.
Twitter (Jan. 19): A social network analysis was conducted of over 2.1 million Tweets collected from May to October 2021. Robredo and the opposition are the largest politician-based community on Twitter, “but they have been met with antagonistic interactions. Meanwhile, Marcos [Jr.] and his supporters have catapulted as [sic] a central figure and community in the platform.”
Actor analysis showed that “obscure actors composed of unidentifiable users” and users who have been “suspended or removed from the platform” have overtaken the news media as central actors in election-related discourse on Twitter.
Facebook (Jan. 28): A social network analysis of 96,590 public FB pages, profiles, and groups, showed that Marcos Jr.’s “growing influence” on the platform is enabled by FB accounts that “bridge partisan content from political pages to dispersed groups in the network.”
His community and FB accounts politically aligned with Sara Duterte, Bong Go, and Rodrigo Duterte also emerged as one of the superclusters in the analysis, “indicating overlapping affinities among these audiences.”
The study also noted, in general, the “spread of hyper-partisan channels and influencers which amplify on-ground political activities, launch ‘attack’ campaigns against the competition, opposition, and news media, as well as distort the political popularity of candidates through ‘kalye surveys.’”
Infotainment and entertainment clusters were used to expose “less politically engaged audiences” to “political content and discourse.”
Gaw and Bunquin’s cross-platform analysis, to be presented in today’s webinar, will reveal deeper and detailed insights into election-related conversations among social media actors and communities.
What are the implications of these findings for users of social media?
Gaw said political actors have been using social media for a long time, attempting to sway the public to accept and support their narratives.
“The election season might only have started in the past few months but politicians have already been running their campaign in digital media for years,” she said.
“Much of these activities are led by ‘under the radar’ actors and it makes voters in the digital public sphere susceptible to political manipulation.
“We call for stakeholders to demand transparency and accountability from politicians running stealth campaigns online that ultimately undermine the integrity of the election process.”
Bunquin pointed out that social media use by both political actors and audiences have upended traditional media, and warned of the abuse of media platforms.
“Traditional sources do not have monopoly over political information and influence online,” he said. “We see the rise of new sources of political information and new intermediaries of political influence who utilize the logics and affordance of different platforms for political gains – some do this by cultivating communities, others engage in coordinated behaviors and abusive practices (such as spamming and propagating falsehoods).
“We call on platforms to be more agile in detecting users and activities that aim to distort the discourse and expand current efforts to account for evolving practices that go unnoticed by their current systems.”
Gaw issued a stronger warning to voters. “The election landscape online has become hyper-partisan, inflammatory, and hostile to opposition,” she said. “This pushes people away from engaging in issue-based dialogue, if not deter them from participating in democratic processes altogether.
“We need open, respectful spaces online to make this 2022 election not about elite politicians but about the public and their electoral agenda to exercise ‘redistributive’ politics.” ### FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO