Friday, February 22, 2013

The Internet and the Social Media in the 2013 Philippine Election

The advent of the internet has improved the way people get and exchange information. It is also a tool for the dissemination of ideas. Nowadays, more and more people use the internet than other media of communication such as TV, radio and newspapers. As a result, traditional newspapers, magazines and books have lesser number of readers than it used to be because more people prefer to read and research information online.

Internet users can create or establish their own website or blogs where they can share ideas on various issues to others. Because internet communication has a global reach, politicians in the Philippines attempted to curtail freedom of expression from it with a bill called Anti-Cybercrime Law which imposed heavier penalty for libel committed online. However, local journalists, bloggers, civic groups, and the internet users themselves vehemently expressed their opposition to the bill online and on the streets. The resounding protest made the legislators to reconsider the passage of the bill which is now put on hold at the Supreme Court. The public uproar on the Anti-Cybercrime Law is a manifestation of the internet and social media’s relevance in influencing public opinion and government policies.

The RH Law and the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Corona were issues that were intensively discussed in Facebook, Twitter and other social media. The RH Law was opposed by the Catholic Church although majority of its faithful was in favor of it. Renato Corona was convicted by majority of the senators who composed the impeachment court. The RH bill was voted for its approval by legislators who are mostly Catholics. The lawmakers publicly declared that they made their decision based on the merit of the evidences and other relevant matters that were presented by the contending parties on the issues, and that they were not in any way swayed by public opinion in coming up with their conclusion. Nevertheless, the internet and the social media are apparently one of the tools of the legislators and government policy makers to read the pulse of the public. One of the pending issues that the public is clamoring for approval by the president is the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI). It is expected that FOI is a next hot topic in the internet and the social media after the election in May 2013.

When it was founded on February 4, 2004, Facebook and Twitter were sparingly used in the discussion of political and other issues that are of public interest. But since then it has become a popular forum to discuss on issues that affect people’s lives, society and communities.

In the Philippines there are about 33 million Facebook users and 11,713,520 of them belong to the 18-24 year-old category, the age groups which compose the majority of the Filipino voters. Because of their easy access of information, internet users are presumed to be well informed on different issues and on that premise they are also presumed to vote for the right candidates comes election time on May 13, 2013. It is the third election to be held in the Philippine since Facebook was founded in 2004.                                                                                                         

The campaign period of national candidates has started. Relevant issues like corruption, political dynasty, qualification of candidates and their track records and the holding of free and honest election are already discussed online on Facebook and other media. Facebook can be also used as a platform of some candidates to make them and their programs known to the public. Indeed, the Facebook and the internet are some of the forums where voters can select the most deserving candidate to hold elective public office.