Air, ground, and cyber war
The nature of Philippine national elections has been radically changed by the arrival of cyberwar: the individualized targeting of social-media messages to millions of voters, framed by applying Artificial Intelligence to their likes and dislikes, in order to influence their votes.
The cyberwar for the people’s votes has added to the traditional air war, which refers to generalized-access broadcast/print media, carrying advertising and punditry, and the ground war, which refers to house-to-house, face-to-face campaigning by the ground troops of the political combatants.
This cyberwar has apparently been waged for many years, decades even, under the radar of over-educated, socially-conscious Filipinos, whose Facebook profiles would signal imperviousness to fairy tales of a supposed golden age in the time of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
Unlike the air war, where paid advertising is subject to standards for basic honesty of messaging, cyberwar is replete with fake positive messages about clients and fake negative messages about their opponents, directly sent by “friends” seemingly familiar with the addressees.
With masses of Filipinos infected by deceptive propaganda, cleverly tailor-fit for them by AI-guided cyberwar—and unvaccinated by a counter-cyberwar armed with the truth—it becomes possible for scientific pre-election surveys to indicate that the strategy, though based on lies, will win the election.
In saying this, I do not refer to any pre-election survey by SWS, which has posted only two reports (in October 2021, on the vice-presidential and senatorial races; see “The election survey scene,” 3/19/22, and “Ethics in election surveys,” 4/9/22.) Out of professional courtesy, I do not comment on non-SWS surveys.
Was 2022 really a landslide? Quantifying the 2022 cyberwar victory depends on one’s confidence in the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Unfortunately, there is no exit poll to confirm the 2022 results, unlike in previous presidential elections. Social Weather Stations did successful exit polls in 1998 and 2004 for ABS-CBN, and in 2010 and 2016 for TV5.
It is only exit polling, done on Election Day itself, that gets the demographics of the actual, rather than intended, vote, that asks voters when they finally chose their candidates, whether they knew of, and were affected by, any pre-election surveys, etc. Asking such questions after the election outcome is already announced, will strongly bias the answers toward the official winners; this is The Spiral of Silence syndrome.
Finding out why no broadcast network was brave enough to sponsor an exit poll this year—by any surveyor, not necessarily SWS—is an important challenge for investigative journalism. I don’t know what happened. When I asked a keyman of a previous sponsor about it informally, months ago, he merely smiled.
The legal struggle for election survey freedom. The Philippines’ first exit poll, done in May 1995 by SWS for ABS-CBN, correctly called the winning mayors and vice mayors in Manila, Quezon City, and Makati days ahead of the Comelec count. Bothered by the poll’s success, the Comelec tried to prevent exit polling in May 1998, but was foiled by a Temporary Restraining Order (see “Dong Puno, exit poll warrior,” 2/26/22). The TRO became permanent when the Supreme Court ruled (GR No. 133486, 1/28/2000) that exit polling and its dissemination are protected by freedom of expression.
The 1998 exit poll correctly called Joseph Estrada as winner of the presidency. Three of the 1998 losers, namely Raul Roco and Miriam Defensor-Santiago for president, and Francisco Tatad for vice president, who were still senators, put rules for election surveys into the 2001 Fair Election Act, including a 15-day blackout before the election. SWS challenged the offensive provision at the Supreme Court, which speedily ruled (GR No. 147571, 5/3/2001) the blackout as unconstitutional.
(Former chief justice Artemio V. Panganiban explained these cases in “ABS-CBN v. Comelec: Exit Polls—a New Paradigm of Free Expression,” Transparency, Unanimity and Diversity, 2000, and “Social Weather Stations v. Comelec: May Election Surveys Be Banned?” A Centenary of Justice, 2001, both by the Supreme Court Press.)
Where is the Random Manual Audit (RMA)? The law requires an audit of the machine-counted votes by comparing them with an independent manual count of the votes from a sample of randomly-chosen precincts throughout the country.
This year, the responsibility for the RMA was assigned to the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections, which should have done the sampling and vote-counting with private witnesses, without giving the Comelec a chance to “prepare the field” for the audit. I am eager to learn if the process was followed, and to see the results.
(Players at a friendly poker game trust each other, by taking turns in shuffling and dealing, and seeing that the one on the dealer’s right cuts the cards first.)
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