The good, bad of PH as world social networking capital | Inquirer Opinion

The good, bad of PH as world social networking capital

NEW YORK—In the United States the media hailed her as an “American hero.” In the Philippines, Robin Lim is a “Filipino-American hero” who grew up in the Philippines with a Filipino mother and American father. On December 11, she was honored as CNN’s 2011 Hero of the Year.

Her nationality is not the issue here. We are proud of her selfless crusade to provide free prenatal, birth and other medical services in Indonesia. What aroused our interest is the strength of her votes, following CNN’s contest format where the network chooses 10 equally impressive nominees and let people from all over the world vote for one winner.

Incidentally, CNN’s 2009 Hero of the Year was Filipino-born and -raised educator Efren Peñaflorida. He garnered the most votes for his pushcart classroom idea in the Philippines. It’s another well-deserved win, whether he’s Filipino or not.


Still, is having a Filipino pedigree a coincidence in these two citations? In both times, Filipinos or residents in the Philippines were encouraged to vote—and vote they did.


CNN was asked to comment on the tally and tabulation of votes but did not get out the information as of press time.

Which brings us to the curious distinction of the Philippines as the Social Networking Capital of the World. It purportedly leads Facebook usage (ranked first in usage, sixth in terms of number of users) and to some degree, Twitter (ranked sixth and sometimes eighth) and YouTube (ranked first in uploads) aside from Skype calling (as part of a joke on “2 Broke Girls”), and texting (more than any country in the world; average user sends 600 text messages a month).


The question of how its people can manage to do anything else comes to mind, because there simply has to be more to being the Social Network Capital of the World than bragging rights, right? What is certainly clear for now is that when it comes to voting, one can rely on the Filipino to be heard. (This writer is Filipino.)

Pageants are telling

Recent events point to this trend—by way of the beauty pageant, a favorite spectator sport among Filipinos.

So in London for Miss World last November 6, Filipinos showed up to vote when it vaulted its very own Gwendoline Ruais to the top five. The other human element supposed to bring objectivity to the entire proceedings—the judges—took over the rest of the way. Ruais didn’t win, but she became the first runner-up.

In the Miss International tilt in China, compatriot Dianne Necio topped the online fan voting, winning “Miss Internet Popularity” (sic) while also making it to the top 15, again courtesy of online voting.

It was perhaps in the September 2011 Miss Universe tilt—the mother lode of all beauty pageants—that online voting got more airtime. As the candidates sashayed onstage, the host and commentators could be heard asking people from all over the world to vote for their own.

So what had always been a near afterthought in TV coverage suddenly became the main reason people had to stay up and watch; they finally had a chance to have their say on it. People, it turns out, can be swayed to crunch numbers beyond eyeing vital statistics.

Viewers responded accordingly by fast-tracking Filipino Shamcey Supsup to the semifinal round and fourth place (as voted by judges). The votes were reportedly tracked by, a site dedicated to major beauty pageants and Telemundo, an American TV network broadcast in Spanish.

Clearly, online voting democratizes the selection process—and legitimizes the winner, because in their minds, majority of the people want them. A win is a win—a moral victory, if you will. Who can argue with that?

This was the same reaction given to us by Keith Lapinig, the young Filipino-American who bested 85 other finalists to win the 2011 Macys Thanksgiving Elf Balloon Design last November. In a phone interview, he said his family rallied Filipinos in the Philippines to vote for him on Facebook, but he thinks that most of his votes came from the US—and that his win was a vote of confidence.

Tipping point

In ruling the social online world, the Philippines has clearly reached a tipping point made even more remarkable for its handicap. First, it is limited by a significantly lower Internet penetration in the world. Second, the Philippines’ population size is almost minuscule compared to say, India with 1 billion people. At 95 million, the Philippines is just nearly 10 percent of India’s population.

Marc Lucas, a New York adman who used to work in the Philippines, explains why Filipinos have a strong online presence.

“Filipinos are highly social, early adopters of technology and are near-native English speakers,” says Lucas, who was with Ogilvy Manila some years ago. Today, Lucas is network creative director of MDC Partners, a company known for its holdings in various advertising agencies.

Lucas’ observations are spot on. In the Philippines, careers, businesses and relationships are made based on one’s social currency. Relationships alone can encompass the political and filial and the intermingling of both. Three generations of families can manage to live in one roof, even including those not related to them. Filipinos do everything together. Manila’s main airport is always packed with entire families bidding goodbye to loved ones.

In one extreme case, the Philippines’ boxing pride Manny Pacquiao chartered a jumbo jet from Los Angeles to Dallas with 187 friends and family members. When training, he has a dozen or so friends to keep his loneliness at bay, as captured in the HBO boxing reality boxing series, “24/7.” In stark contrast, his trainer Freddie Roach is content to come home to an empty apartment.

Everything is personal in the Philippines. For better or worse, relationships between friends and family are of equal importance. Add relationships with politicians and you have elections that generate a high 80-percent voter turnout. Voting personalities is commonplace—and this is when trouble can occur.

In American Idol Season 3 in 2004, Filipino-American Jasmine Trias reached third place, thanks to tremendous text-voting support from California and her home state, Hawaii—two states with the most number of Filipinos. Would it matter if Trias was subsequently named the worst performer among American Idol’s finalists and that Jennifer Hudson, eliminated earlier, became a huge star—a singer and Academy Award-winning actress?

This was voting by text message, proving that Filipinos make use of every available technology out there. It was naturally a vote for Filipino pride that made the judges realize their word no longer carried as much significance. This realization would surface again recently when the judges—in the new “The X Factor USA” show—allegedly received death threats for “judging” when people thought their votes should have been the deciding factor.

Friendster killer

Can TV and radio, buoyed by the intense scrutiny of print media, be classified as social tools? The Philippines made use of these old standbys to launch the four-day bloodless revolution in 1986 called People Power—yet another tipping point that started the Philippines on the road toward toppling corrupt despots.

Since then, Filipinos have been easy to galvanize to fight for a common cause—and with more social tools at their disposal. It was not surprising to hear that text messaging toppled former President Joseph Estrada for corruption charges when the Philippines, just three years earlier, became (and still is) the Text–messaging Capital of the World.

Remember when the Philippines was labeled Friendster-killer not too long ago?

Friendster tried to sell ads targeting the American market when most of its site visitors were based in the Philippines. It was the No. 1 user of Friendster. By 2004, it was dead, only to resurface later as a social gaming site. The Philippines has since moved on to Facebook, but Mark Zuckerberg need not quiver in his Adidas slip-ons, because Friendster at its peak only had 50 million users.

So is having the Social Networking Capital of the World title, as cited by Universal McCann, a source of pride or embarrassment? How do you measure it against work productivity loss?

On Facebook, the Philippines has, for two consecutive years, held the highest percentage of visitor reach on Facebook, says comScore, which measures Internet traffic. ( The Philippines is also No. 1 in joining new social networking sites, based on data in June 2011.

It is understandable why YouTube opened its first Southeast Asia office in the Philippines last Oct. 12, the country being a top video uploader. In hindsight, there may even be a connection there on how talented Filipino singers got the attention of America. With the stratospheric number of views on a Philippine-made video worldwide, it was just a matter of time for Charice and Arnel Pineda of Journey to cross over.

Filipinos have time

People may wonder how a tiny country can manage to lead the way in social networking. Filipinos don’t perceive this medium as a waste of time but on the contrary, a vital part of the daily interaction of Filipinos. More important perhaps is the fact that Filipinos have time.

In the US, people have no time in between two jobs; no time to care for their children (babysitters are common in the Philippines); no time to deal with household chores (most Philippine households have them); no time, period. (They even have drivers in the Philippines.)

But what can Filipinos do with this title? Recently, a Philippine-based company called FunGuy Studio partnered with an American company in the US to produce social gaming apps. It’s all well and good, but it would do much better if it had the global mindset of its Asian neighbors—the Indians, Japanese and Chinese know they don’t need to partner with an American company. They can set up shop in the US—and still provide jobs back home.

Clinton visit

In the Philippines recently, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted to answer this in a question posed by a 24-year-old Filipino. How, the young woman asked, can she achieve her dreams and make a difference in this age of high technology, being “very, very active” in social networking?

Acknowledging the Philippines having one of the highest Facebook usage rates in the world, Clinton noted how it can be used to “bring about social change,” like “exposing corruption, demanding transparency and creating accountability, break(ing) down barriers, so businesses could easily be started.”

Clinton’s response should cue in young people to continue enacting change for social good. In the US, she cited a young woman’s heroic online efforts to stop a bank from charging $5 a month for debit card usage—and won.

This can, of course, be used in the extreme. For this reason, volatile Filipinos must be able to discern the difference between social good and propaganda—and fact-check certain claims. Perhaps it’s time someone took our social capital seriously, because in the wrong hands all this beehive of online activity may just bite us where the sun doesn’t shine.

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TAGS: facebook, internet, people, Philippines, Social networking

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