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SOCIAL MEDIA: A NEW PLATFORM FOR DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION

A TERM PAPER SUBMITTED IN POLITICAL SCIENCE 14

Cruel, John Matthew O.


May 26, 2016
University of the Philippines Manila

Professor Cleve Kevin Robert Arguelles

SOCIAL MEDIA: A NEW PLATFORM FOR DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION

Abstract

Fundamentally, participation is essential to the core meaning of democracy and


good governance as it improves information flow, accountability and due process and
gives a voice to those most affected by public policy. With this, does the electorate have
found a new platform for the expression of democratic rights and privileges? This paper
will evaluate several concepts relating to democracy as well as the impact of social media
to democratic participation and the 2016 Philippine Elections.

SOCIAL MEDIA: A NEW PLATFORM FOR DEMOCRATIC PARTICIPATION


Outline:

I.

Introduction

II.

Emergence of the Internet


a. 18th century public sphere
b. 20th century public sphere

III.

The Netizen: the social medias fundamental unit of an electorate

IV.

Diffusion of Social Network Sites


a. Facebook
b. Twitter

V.

Significance of Democratic Participation and Social Media in the Philippines


a.

Reasons for the increased concern of linking citizen participation and


governance

VI.

Social Media and the Electoral Process


a. Central Functions of the elections
b. Exploitation of social media by politicians

VII.

Social Media Elections


a. Social media as a game changer
b. Social media strategies of 2016 presidential aspirants

VIII.

Conclusion and Generalities

Introduction
Today, the concept of democratic participation is as ubiquitous as a driver seeing a
stoplight whenever he or she is on the road. This is the result of the provisions given to
the people under a democratic constitution since democratic participation is encouraged.
But in the past, participation in the government as well as in politics has been limited to
the few. With the prominence of democracy, the exercise of democratic participation by

the citizens spread like wildfire. Traditional public spheres for democratic participation,
characterized by face-face meetings, were imminent in the 18th century. But with the
emergence of the Internet in the late 20th century, a new platform for democratic
participation has emerged and proved to be one of the defining forces of the 2016
Philippine Elections, the Social Media.
Emergence of the Internet
Throughout the years, man has been content in traditional sources of information
such as the television and radio. Although a majority of the old folks still rely on these
long-established spring of news, facts, and particulars, it is beyond doubt that a new
fountain has emerged as a result of the recent developments in technology, the Internet.
Since the 1990s, the emergence of the internet has revolutionized ways by which
political discourse was done. In Ben Macloughlins (n.d.) work To what extent does
Facebook function as a Public Sphere, he acknowledged that the internet is a space that
can be used for democratic communicative action. In the work, Macloughlin studied
Habermas (1989) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere in which he
notes that political public spheres in the 18 th century were characterized by face-face
meetings in order for people to share their opinions about politics. Without the existence
of internet at that time, he also stated that people would meet in various public places
such as coffee shops and town halls for people to be able to discuss about politics and
trade news. This public sphere continued to be the dominant sphere for active
participation until the 1990.
By the 20th century, a contemporary public sphere would replace the old-fashioned
public sphere of face-face meetings. Macloughlins (n.d.) explained that with the coming
of the electronic age, there arose the need for new political intuitions and at the same
time, a new public sphere necessary for the democratic control of a global polity. With
the surfacing of the internet as a result of the advancement of technology, another public
sphere was born. Gone were the days when it was mandatory for people to meet up in
order for them to discuss a thing or two about politics. With the creation of the internet
space, communication can be done regardless of distance, age, class, race and gender
amongst people.
The Internet has proven itself to be the most useful invention in a number of
different ways, and the most interesting that has risen along millions of sites made
available through it was social media.
The Netizen: The Social Medias Fundamental Unit of an Electorate
While citizens are considered to be the fundamental unit of an electorate in a
traditional setting, who are these so called citizens under a social media setting?
The netizens of social media is the counterpart of citizens in the civil society.
Coined by Columbia University graduate student Michael Hauben in 1995, netizen is a
combination of two words namely Network and Citizen (Suzuki n.d.). According to

Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a netizen is a person who actively uses the internet


especially in a proper and responsible way. Thus, netizens mean citizens of the Internet
space who does communication with other people as a means of accessing information
and/or expressing their ideas via a series of networks that connect each and every netizen
across the Internet.
Just like the citizens, netizens views and opinions towards democratic
participation are important in a social media setting. Case in point, Mark Zuckerberg, the
creator of Facebook, on 28 August 2015 announced on his official Facebook account that
1 billion people already have a monthly access to Facebook. As the population of
netizens all around the world has grown at very fast rates, it is imperative that we
consider their opinions towards democratic participation because their impact in the
public sphere has greatly increased with the surge of the social media populace.
Diffusion of Social Network Sites
With the rise of social media as a new public sphere for political discussions, we
can identify key players in the social media arena, Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is a
social networking website whose goal is to connect and share with the users family and
friends online. This social media site who has a monthly user average of 1 billion people
today was originally designed for college students in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg while he
was an undergraduate at Harvard University. Through Facebook, people are able to
connect with other people via private messages and even commenting on ones post about
anything. If a person wishes to express their approval, the individual would simply press
the popular Like button. Famous personalities and groups make a Facebook Page in
order for people all around the world to be able to keep track of their day to day activities
if they wish to.
Another social networking site, Twitter, is a new key player considered to be
another public sphere for political discussion. Twitter, like Facebook, is a social
networking site that is known for its unique feature of finding and sharing updates all
over the globe . True to its nature, Twitter consists of posts, alternatively called tweet,
that is comprised of 140 individual characters such as letters, spaces, and punctuation
marks. Many would think why they would bother using this social networking site
because of its limited features, but the real beauty of it lies on its limitedness and the use
of hashtags #. When people read tweets, they dont have to bother reading a long one
because they are sure that tweets would not extend for more than 140 characters. Adding
to this, the use of hashtags makes Twitter a search engine for different kinds of
information that are popular such as news about current events and scientific discoveries.
Plus, users get to follow people whom they would like to keep track in their life through
their tweets.
From posting statuses, commenting, chatting and tweeting, these two social media
moguls, Facebook and Twitter have constructed the perfect space for political discussion.
At the comfort of ones home, people are able to participate in group discussions. Despite
the compromise of credibility amongst netizens involved, through a collective consensus
with one another, netizens are able to make a great impact on an issue thereby radiating

popular attention. Although there are other social media sites that are also suitable venues
for these activites such as Youtube, Instagram, and Tumblr, in terms of magnitude of
people using it for political interactions, this study would focus on the two social media
top dogs.
Significance of Democratic Participation and Social Media in the Philippines
In order for people to partake in a society, especially in a democratic country, one
must be able to actively participate. As one of the four tenets of democracy (Ramota
2016), people must be able to involve themselves in the nature of politics on the basis of
their free will to do so.
In John Gaventas (2004) Participatory development or participatory democracy?
Linking participatory approaches to policy and governance., he discusses several
reasons for the increased concern of linking citizen participation and governance: (1) On
the course of policy making process, often, policy makers tend to create policies for the
benefit of themselves but on the expense of citizens because they make the policy making
process their domain, and thus their advantage. But when a shift happens due to the
increased participation of citizens in policy making such as voicing their concerns
through rallies and mobilizations, citizens function from being simply users to choosers
of public policies made by policy makers. They become the makers and shapers of
policies themselves (Cornwall and Gaventa 2000). (2) During the Spanish colonial
period, the Philippine state is highly centralized, meaning that most of the political power
comes from the central government itself. With the entry of Americans, driven by a neoliberal agenda to weaken the central state, they started to decentralize power. As a result,
decentralization has brought forth newer opportunities for democratic engagement such
as the right to suffrage and the right to be elected and hold a government post, thereby
making governance participation a right (Teehankee 2002). (3) As a result of the
democratic deficit, the enormous need for responding to pent up demands and pressure
from below has produced several new ways of democratic and civic engagement
(Hutchcroft and Rocamora 2003). This ranges from traditional citizen consultation
methods, such as hearings, to a wider spectrum of public participation and deliberation
such as mass movements and labor union assemblies.
Due to these new trends in the political arena, democratic participation has been
recognized as one of the innovations that link the citizen and the state together. With the
formation of these trends, the Social Media is therefore an integral part in terms of
accomodating these various trends. Because social media sites like Facebook and Twitter
have become an integral part of almost half of the Philippine population, it is clear that
the social media has a significant effect in the democratic participation of Filipinos.
Social Media and the Electoral Process
In Julio Teehankees (2002) work Electoral Politics in the Philippines, he once
said that the electoral process of the Philippines was once modeled after the western
models of election. Due to American Colonialism, institutions such as constitutional law,
the secret ballot, the referendum, political parties and legislature in the Philippines have

emerged. As a result, colonialism became the defining force in the emergence of


democracy and electoral process
in the Philippine nation-state.
The electoral process is an important venue for displaying the democratic
participation most especially in a representative type of democracy and Presidential form
of government such as the Philippines. Elections perform two central functions in a
political system: 1) they represent the political will of the voters; and (2) they integrate
the people through the formation of political parties that bring about majorities
(Teehankee 2002). With the 2016 Philippine Presidential elections, qualified citizens are
given a chance to elect their choice of leader. And with the coming of the 2016 election
season, social media played a vital role.
During the 2016 Presidential elections, politicians have seen the need to keep up
with the constant developments in campaign strategies. Politicians began to realize that
with the addition of the social media as a public sphere, they must be able to deviate from
traditional ways of campaigning, thereby entrenching themselves into this newborn
ground where millions of Filipinos have actively shared information and conversations in
a day-day basis.
In Demie Danglas (2016) news report How social media is shaping the 2016
elections, she stated that what attracted politicians for them to exploit social media for
their own agendas was social medias ability to reach huge populations that has large
sums of potential voting audiences.
The Social Media Elections
With the utilization of social media as a new plaform for democratic participation
by millions of filipinos and the recent exploitation of politically motivated individuals,
social media is now revered to as a game-changer in the electoral politics. Politicians
can no longer ignore the optimization of this largely untapped reservoir of potential
voters. Thus, politicians would resort to different ways by which they can ingress
themselves into the netizens consciousness to gain their vote when election comes.
Listed on the coming paragraphs are the tactics by which the 2016 presidentiables have
done in order for them to reach out potential voters in social media.
Riding on the bandwagon of Daang matuwid, Mar Roxas is considered to be the
most innovative in terms of social media stretegy (Arguelles 2016). Praising the
accomplishments of the incumbent president, he often state several of the administrations
achievements thereby reasoning that there is a need for continuance. Having the blessings
of President Aquino by endorsing him as the standard bearer of the Liberal Party as well
as his successor to the presidency, Mar Roxas has launched several campaign ads in the
social media that relates him to the bandwagon of Daang Matuwid.
By criticizing the incumbent administrations performance, incumbent Vice
President Jejomar Binay established a campaign strategy that revolved around him being
an effective and decisive leader, a quality he did not see on the standard bearer of the

Liberal Party. Leading the opposition, vice president Binay has constantly critcized the
current administration for its shortcomings and would incessantly promise that he would
offer solutions to solve these shortcomings. Resorting to the launch of various campaign
ads online, he would often use the Makati narrative as well as the Galing sa mahirap
narrative as basis for people to believe that he epitomizes the struggles of the poor and he
can make the Philippines progressive just like Makati city.
Bagging on her fathers surname and the fact that she was a foundling, Grace Poe
launched several online ad campaigns featuring his father, the late Fernando Poe Jr and
mother Susan Roces. as well as using the foundling narrative to her advantage. In
Camille Elemias (2016) report on The 10 staple lines in Grace Poes speeches, she
notes that most of Poes political campaigns would use the FPJ Card by utilizing it in
various ways such as reciting renowned FPJ lines and mentioning that she is his daughter.
Although the issue of her being a foundling made her undergo through a series of legal
proceedings, she was able to come back bouncing by using this as a source of sympathy
thereby making her a front runner in several surveys.
Perhaps, among all other presidential candidates, the best utilizer of social media
is none other than the Iron Lady of Asia Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago. Having
ran thrice, first in 1998, 2004, and now in 2016, the tough talking Santiagos campaign
strategy revolves around merit as a determinant for being a president. Using mainly her
social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, most of her political campaigns
circulates around this arena. Her social media managers would upload various publication
materials and launch campaign ads that would say a thing or two about her track record
and credibilities.
Rodrigo Duterte, the undisputed king of Facebook conversations according to
the social media site, is undeniably considered by many as the most unique among the
other presidentiables in terms of his campaign strategies (Malig 2016). Bagging on his
campaign technique of a classic element of populism of them vs us rhetoric, this has
catapulted his way towards being the top presidential candidate at the last minute before
elections (Arguelles 2016). Normally, politicians would clense their language before
appearing to the public. But in the case of the Davao city mayor Rodrigo Duterte, instead
of doing such, he would blatantly curse in front of the public and utter some scandalous
remarks that would often draw the ire of certain sectors of the society. Curiously enough,
instead of his audience being appalled by this, he has attracted public attention. Some
sectors of the society consider his tone scandalous and would resort to black propaganda
and bad publicity stunts so as to deter people from voting for him. But as Professor
Ramota (2016) would say: there is no such thing as bad publicity, a publicity is still a
publicity. Surprisingly enough, this gamble of his has been one of the main reasons for
his victory in the 2016 presidential elections.
Because of the accessibility that social media has provided and the
immortalization of contents posted such as photos and videos, social media has
enunciated new and far cheaper ways for electoral candidates to widen their reach of the

electorate (Dangla 2016). This has made the 2016 presidential candidates integrate social
media as part of their strategy in electoral politics.
Conclusion and Generalities
Professor Cleve Arguelles (2016) states that it is with no doubt that the social
media had a great impact with regards to the 2016 elections. Through social media, he
revealed that there is no more need for newspapers and commercial ads for people to be
able to learn about a candidate. Social media has amplified the voices of people from all
sectors of society. He presented the following statistics he gathered from SWS Surveys to
prove his claim: (1) Facebook has recognized the Philippines as the country with the most
politically engaged people explaining that during the 2016 elections, 268 million
conversations about politics have been generated. (2) 30 million people utilize Facebook
to talk about elections ranking transparency as the most trending topic next to
economy, education, social welfare, and foreign policy. (3) In terms of most talked
people, Rodrigo Duterte snatched the top spot, which explains his popularity.
In an age where the development of technology has been very progressive, its
products such as the social media has given new and improved ways for people to be
connected all around the world. The way by which individuals exercise their civic and
political participation has severely transitioned from offline participation to online
participation. Because of this, politicians have made it their goal to integrate social media
in their political campaigns, incorporating new techniques and strategies to make
themselves known in the social media arena, for them to be able to gather a much more
wider perspective of the electorate. As a result, the social media became the new venue
for the electoral process.
With a presidential form of government, the Philippines electoral process is very
important most especially when its the time for the Filipinos to elect a new president.
The hype that the 2016 Philippine presidential elections brought proves that the social
media is undeniably one of the defining forces of the electoral process. With a historic
voter turnout of 81.62%, the elections for the 16 th presidency had undeniably surpassed
that of the 2010 and 2013 elections with 74% and 77% voter turnout respectively
(Esmaquel II 2016). Perhaps, the very characteristic of social medias information
dissemination has been an integral part in its contribution to the increasing participants of
democratic participation. With social media being one of the forms by which social
accountability can be imposed on the civil society, truly, the social media is now
considered a new platform for democratic participation.
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