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COMMENTARY

Leading the world in social media

12:03 AM March 22, 2017

Many critics contend that ours is a backward country. But actually it’s way ahead if one looks at the thriving digital industry, which shows that it ranks No. 1 worldwide for the average times our citizens spend on social media daily (close to four hours). It’s also tied for  No. 1 position worldwide for the average time Filipinos spend daily on the internet: 5 hours, 12 minutes.  Many consider this a great achievement, but the naysayers declare we haven’t produced world-class scholars, scientists, statesmen, artists and thinkers.

Avid clients of Mark Zuckerberg, 39 percent of Filipinos, use Facebook—par for the course when 80 million (79 percent of the population) get their news from social media.

These statistics are from a study in the January/February 2017 issue of The New Republic. Sean Williams’ piece, “IHeartMyDictator,” produced accusations of being an “anti-Duterte troll” from a certain Madelyn who said she “loves Duterte” and her country of which, she asserted, Williams knew nothing.

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Indeed President Duterte and his backers, writes Williams, have produced “a vast and effective keyboard army to silence dissenters and create the illusion that he enjoys widespread public support. Each day hundreds of thousands of supporters (paid and unpaid) take to social media to proselytize his deadly gospel. They rotate through topics like corruption, drug abuse, and U.S. interference, and post links to hastily cobbled-together, hyper-partisan web sites at all hours of the day and night…. Though social media is designed to make each user appear to be a unique individual with his own views, Madelyn and her cohorts stick exclusively to the Duterte talking points, without any of the cat GIFs, funny asides, jokes with friends, or other elements that populate most people’s feeds.”

In November 2015 when Mr. Duterte decided to run for president, he enlisted a marketing consultant named Nic Gabunada, according to Williams, “to assemble a social media army with a budget of just over $200,000.  Gabunada used the money to pay hundreds of prominent online voices to flood social media with pro-Duterte comments, popularize hashtags, and attack critics.”

The New Republic report says: “The Philippines seem tailor-made for this kind of propaganda machine. The country’s median age is only 23 years old, and almost half of its 103 million citizens are active social media users. Access to Facebook is provided free with all smartphones, but Filipinos incur data charges when visiting other web sites, including those of newspapers. As a result, millions of citizens rely on social media for virtually all their news and information, consuming a daily diet of partisan opinion that masquerades as  fact…. Duterte has taken advantage of this media landscape.  Online trolls can earn up to $2,000 a month creating fake accounts on social media, and using those ‘bots’ (robotic automated process) to flood the digital airwaves with pro-Duterte propaganda…. A staggering 20 percent of all Twitter accounts that mention Duterte are actually bots….  Thanks to this constant thrum of pro-Duterte messaging, he has maintained an approval rating of more than 80 percent.”

As Williams’ encounters with Madelyn illustrate, he found that Mr. Duterte’s supporters are also quick to attack his critics. “Leila de Lima, the country’s former justice secretary, has endured death threats and online abuse since she launched an inquiry into Duterte’s current policy of extrajudicial killings and alleged use of death squads in Davao…. Filipinos criticize the drug lords; others save their ire for overzealous cops. But no one blames the president.”

When Williams interviewed one woman about Mr. Duterte’s orders to shoot drug addicts, she said, “I don’t read the newspapers,” adding that she got her news exclusively from Facebook.

Isabel T. Escoda used to write from Hong Kong and has three books on Filipino women migrant workers. She now lives in Cebu.

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TAGS: Commentary, Duterte, facebook, internet, Mark Zuckerberg, opinion, social media, Technology
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