ELITE scholars and analysts, including even mainstream media, have dumped the blame on social media as if it is the only source of all the disinformation and lies that would endanger our democracy. In fact, one of the key recurring themes in the recently concluded elections is that fake news peddled in social media has propelled Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to become the President of the Republic.

For a while, this has become the convenient narrative, and local and foreign political and communication scientists and scholars have churned papers, reiterated in interviews, lectures and conference presentations, providing data to buttress the claim that Marcos and his enablers peddled fakery, where he was the main beneficiary.

Yet, there is something methodologically problematic when someone makes this argument, yet the main sources would also be social media content. What is effectively missed is the comparative perspective, and a robust evidence that indeed social media has totally taken over our political landscape. It is admitted that the noise of social media tends to amplify, but the main question was whether the noise was indeed matched by warm bodies. Those who make the argument would, without the benefit of actual comparative and disaggregated data, conveniently claim that the 31 million votes which elevated Marcos to the presidency are but products of social media manipulation. But this is more hypothesis than proven fact.

What is factual, however, is that social media expenditure of candidates did not translate into actual votes. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism revealed that former vice president Maria Leonor Robredo and former senator Panfilo Lacson spent a lot on social media ads in the 2022 presidential elections, and yet both failed in their candidacies. In the 2019 elections, former undersecretary Margaux Uson ran for Congress but failed to translate her millions of social media followers into a base that could at least have assured her a seat as a party-list representative. Robredo partisans tried to spin the tale that Google Trends was a better indicator of electoral fortunes instead of pre-election surveys, yet her resounding loss to Marcos has practically rendered that canard as actually one of the fakest news ever peddled in the recent election cycle.

What is, however, clear is this. While it is documented that many Filipinos have access to Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, there is data that shows that this may not have that strong an impact on their political choices and preferences. In a 2018 survey by Pulse Asia, it was shown that while the number of Filipinos having access to the internet increased from 37 percent the previous year to 47 percent, the percentage of people relying on the internet as their source of news even declined. In 2017, 35 percent of the 37 percent relied on the internet for news, but in 2018 only 29 percent of the 47 percent said so. In 2021, the number of Filipinos who relied on the internet for their news jumped to 48 percent, according to Pulse Asia.

Get the latest news
delivered to your inbox
Sign up for The Manila Times’ daily newsletters
By signing up with an email address, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

However, one cannot use this survey to conclude that the influence of social media in politics has increased. There is danger in assuming that just because the number of people relying on the internet has increased in 2021, such is an indication that social media now plays a role in the shaping of political choices and preferences. One important fact needs to be articulated, simply because mainstream media and communication scholars seem not to give much attention to it. It is the fact that mainstream media has also migrated to the internet. Rappler is entirely online, while all major news organizations, and even the tabloids, have their own online presence. Even news and public affairs broadcasts are no longer seen only in cable and free television, but are now streamed online. And this presence is not just in the form of having dedicated websites, but comes as content for the Facebook and Twitter accounts, or even YouTube and Instagram accounts, of these news organizations and their journalists.

Thus, it is not entirely correct to conclude that just because more people read or watch their news and public affairs program on the internet, that they are now held captive to content created by bloggers and vloggers. Results of another survey conducted by DigiVoice in the third quarter of 2021 were more direct and clearer in terms of the source of political news by people. A substantial majority of 78.7 percent still relied on mainstream media as their sources of news and information about politics and political personalities, and this would presumably include even those that are in online platforms. Only 10.5 percent relied on what was labeled as social media, which is commonly understood to be the vloggers and bloggers who are not professional journalists.

The current readiness to point fingers at bloggers and vloggers as the sources of disinformation and noise in political discourse may not actually be coming from a conceptually and methodologically honest and robust analysis. There is a need to unpack the nature of the platforms and venues from where people derive their political content, and caution should be exercised in conflating the categories and concluding that just because it is online, that it is automatically interpreted as social media.

Empirical data is needed on the actual presence not only of mainstream media organizations and journalists in the internet, but more importantly there is a need to scrutinize the extent to which they now, likewise, fall into the nature of the beast which they now inhabit, as one that is prone to the peddling of disinformation, whether deliberate or otherwise. There has been too much focus on scrutinizing the fakery supposedly carried out by bloggers and vloggers, but very little has been done to study and document the fakery and disinformation being peddled by mainstream media organizations and journalists on the internet in their online platforms.