In the 2004 presidential elections contested by GMA and FPJ, there were approximately 4.5M Filipinos with access to the internet while Friendster was the primary social network. In the 2010 elections for President that saw PNoy win the Presidency, Friendster was no longer the top social network and was in fact on its way to extinction; Facebook had dislodged it from “numero uno” position and established itself as the social network darling of all 22 million on-line Filipinos; and a fivefold jump in internet users from the last national elections of 2004 was realized. By then, Facebook, amazingly, had users in excess of more than half a billion people worldwide with close to a billion and a half subscribed users by the start of 2016.
By the time the 2016 elections would be underway, the number of social network accounts in the Philippines would have more than doubled the 2010 figures bringing it to approximately 45.7M Filipinos, the same number accessing the internet with a hundred percent penetration on Facebook, hence, the Philippine’s distinction of being called “the Facebook capital of the world.” The coming elections, indeed, could very well be decided on Facebook and Twitter knowing also that all news and entertainment programs and political talk shows broadcast on TV are themselves reporting the goings-on in Facebook and Twitter. TV programs interact with netizens in “real time” giving internet posts a “double exposure” when broadcast as news on TV, or through the TV programs’ respective interactive features.
Country Presidents and Prime Ministers, heads of organized religions including Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, billionaires and celebrities such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson, all use one or another of the social networks to communicate with their constituents, fans, followers and supporters on matters of import as well as their personal feelings on certain issues. During one of the numerous sporadic flare-ups between Palestinians and Israelis, Twitter was used to warn Israeli citizens which district the next missile fired from Palestinian territory would most likely land on — this, in “real time” giving the people in a targeted area time to take cover. The “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists, embarrassing and glorious moments of international celebrities, as well as multi-million dollar fund raisers, have utilized the various social network portals for optimum effectivity.
On the hardware side of the digital social network phenomenon is the trend towards the use of mobile gadgets in accessing the internet. These gadgets — tablets, notebooks, smart phones, etc. — mobile and smaller than the “endangered specie” desktop computers, are more affordable and have helped grow faster the number of people with access to the internet. These gadgets have also increased the over-all average frequency in internet use with apps like traffic advisories, road map directions, restaurant locations, reservations, video games, VoIP telephony, and other information exchanges that help in our daily activities. Next coming is “the internet of things” but we’ll avoid digressing.
The situation in the Philippines is no different from the rest of the world albeit behind some countries in penetration but, also, ahead of others. The coming elections in May 2016 will be a “first” for the country to be held with half of the population having access to the internet in spite of our very slow internet speed connection which is another story. As we have witnessed the power of the internet as manifested in other areas of the globe, we may see here in the Philippines — no less than the “Facebook capital of the world” — the results of the May 2016 national elections influenced to a large degree by the digital social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Be that as it may, we expect the internet to play a major role in the coming elections. The “numbers” are definitely present for it to have a strong impact on the outcome. And in close races, the politician with the better use of the internet could end up the winner because of it. Politicians that don’t give it its’ due importance could be in for the biggest surprise of their political lives.