Campaigning during the pandemic

In the Philippines, the presidential election started a couple of days ago with the filing of the candidacy of aspirants. The campaign is now on social media considering that the pandemic continues to restrict the country in different levels of lockdown and the vaccine is not yet readily available to anyone.

Due to the lack of net neutrality rules allowing Philippine telcos to be in-cahoots with Facebook, Facebook is the dominant social network. In fact, it is sad that the New York Times opinion piece even described Facebook as “critical infrastructure” for the Philippines. If that isn’t a slap on the face of the Philippine Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), I don’t know what is.

“It’s critical infrastructure for the federal government in the Philippines and hospitals in India.”

Facebook is known to amplify fake news, misinformation, disinformation and hate speech, more than facts and the truth. This becomes a dilemma for the campaign:

  1. Embrace how Facebook is designed and spew fake news to guarantee that it gets maximum reach; OR
  2. Take the moral high ground and fight for facts and the truth, but get buried under a ton of Facebook amplified fakes, making it essentially ineffective.

The question is — what is the right thing to do? Of course, #2, no question. However, if the opponent is not playing fair and chose #1, what are you to do, will you stoop down to their level? If the campaign is handled by a paid organization, there is a high chance that #1 is the option, aligning with Facebook’s “company over country” mantra. There may still be ethical companies out there, of course, but will they be willing to take on the job.

Incidentally, not a single politician has spoken about Facebook and the issues that were brought to light by the whistleblowers, Frances Haugen and Sophie Zang. Why? We can only speculate. Is it because they are benefitting a lot from the divisive power of Facebook and its algorithms?

As a voter, you need to be vigilant. One thing is to do the research yourself — do not fall for the propaganda from all sides, from radio, TV, print media and online. Remember, it is very easy to generate fakes — fake photos, fake audio, fake videos, and even extremely easier to generate fake stories and articles. Do not fall for those who claim this and that (that they are for protecting human rights, when in reality, they choose who to protect; that they have a better plan for the pandemic, when truth is nobody has and everyone is learning on the fly; you name it, they have solutions to every problem), hoping to align with your beliefs. They will make you feel like they are your best friend. Step back and look at the big picture — IT IS CAMPAIGN SEASON, where liars thrive. Look at their track record, both good and bad. Look for who they support and who are supporting them, it gives you an idea who they are beholden to whose interests they will protect, if and when they win.

Whilst Facebook is the main social network to look at, don’t forget Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and of course, YouTube (where following their recommended videos will bury you deep in the rabbit hole, so to speak), where the same type of fake news, misinformation, disinformation and hate speech are amplified. So the TL;DR don’t believe what you see, hear and read, regardless of who shared it, always doubt its veracity until YOU verify. Good luck to us! Good luck to the Philippines!