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Social Media in the Philippines is Widespread, but what is its Impact? Share on email Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on google Share on digg Share on delicious More Sharing ServicesShare October 12, 2011

By Emil Tapnio and Steven Rood
The Philippines long had a terrible reputation for telecommunications, with Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew famously saying that in 1992, “98 percent of the population are waiting for a telephone, and the other 2 percent for a dial tone.”

Above, a rice farmer in the Philippines uses his mobile phone to send a text message. Photo: IRRI Images. However, beginning with the administration of Fidel Ramos (1992-1998) and followed by President Estrada (1998-2001), the telecoms industry was liberalized, and phone ownership skyrocketed. While there were more landlines available, much of the growth was in mobile phones. Soon the Philippines was the texting (SMS) capital of the world – to the point where the practice played a part of the ouster of President Estrada early in 2001. When the Senate impeachment trial was suddenly adjourned without verdict, the text message went around “meet at EDSA.” Crowds gathered in the middle of the night and refused to leave the main Manila thoroughfare until he left the presidential palace. Fast forward to the present, and we have Facebook being used by more than 25 percent of the population – ranking 8th in the world, while other social media networks (such as Twitter) are rapidly growing in popularity. In September 2011, the Philippine Trust Index, commissioned by EON The Stakeholder Firm, was released. The study revealed that 68 percent of the respondents view online news sites as the most trusted sources of news and information while 49 percent trust social networking sites. These impressive metrics are telling about usage, but more needs to be done to understand the impact that social media has. A good example was the exciting initiative by ABS-CBN, “Boto Mo Ipatrol Mo” (patrol your vote) that was part of the general introduction of new technology in election coverage. The network aggressively reached out through advertisements and roadshows to get people to sign up for the system, and to post their observations and comments. The effort received per day 500 reports by email, 103 calls, and 3,058 texts during the electoral campaign. BMPM peaked with 87,419 “Boto Patrollers” in its database, 125,487 fans on Facebook, 23,111 supporters on Twitter, 6,960 members on its microsite, and 3,701 members on Multiply. The May 2010 automated election was indeed much improved, with lower levels of violence and being generally accepted as producing honest results. But any impact of BMPM needs to be assessed in context – for instance, the fact that there were 76,000 different voting places across the country means that many observers are needed. The long-established Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, along with its Muslim partner organizations in Mindanao, mobilized well over 400,000 volunteer observers who not only sent in reports but forwarded copies of election returns so that results could be cross-checked. The Asia Foundation has long partnered with organizations who try to move forward through technology, helping to sponsor in May 2005 the first Philippine Blogging Summit. Five years later, in the rapidly transforming social media landscape, we supported civil society organizations to leverage this technology to reach out to the general public – in this case as part of human rights advocacy work in the Philippines. Learning to exploit the popularity of online social networking sites to advance their social and political campaigns and to drum-up public support, human rights-based organizations underwent a training on “Digital Activism.” This focused on the use of social networking sites (Facebook), blogging (WordPress), microblogging (Twitter), web tools and applications (Google documents), live streaming, and mobile activism. With the support of USAID,...
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