I’m presenting my doctoral thesis at UP Diliman’s College of Mass Communication! Come and hear me talk about the role of influencers in political communication in the Philippines. This will be on April 5, 3:00PM PH time, 7:00AM UK time. Register here.
In 2016, 16 million Filipinos elected Rodrigo Duterte into presidency. His campaign was founded on populist narratives and heavily used social media, especially Facebook influencers, who helped shape his political campaign. Similarly, Duterte critics also used Facebook to criticise his populist agenda. Facebook has become a crucial tool for political campaigning, especially with 67 million Filipino users spending an average of 4 hours everyday on Facebook. The Philippines also ranks number one in terms of time spent on social media. With the Philippines having one of the highest Facebook penetration, Facebook has been weaponised for implementing disinformation campaigns and discourse-hijacking campaigns for political agenda (Ong and Cabañes, 2018).
The majority of existing research on the use of social media for political campaigning has focussed primarily on Europe and the United States, with Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines underexplored. Current research on the Philippines’ use of social media for political participation mainly tackle mediated populism through paid trolling and fake news (Ong and Cabañes, 2018; Cabañes and Cornelio, 2017). So far, there has been no research looking at the role of Facebook influencers in disseminating populist and anti-populist narratives to Filipino voters. Given the big role of Facebook influencers in the last two elections in the Philippines, this paper tries to fill in this gap in research.
Using quantitative content analysis as a method, the purpose of this paper is to assess how Rodrigo Duterte, his main campaign platforms, and critical political issues in the Philippines were portrayed across Facebook pages of these influencers — both supporters and critics — and how these narratives were discussed by the Filipino audience on Facebook. The paper looks at the most common rhetorical devices used by Facebook influencers, as well as the use of hate speech and the presence of incivility and intolerance in online political discourse.
The Facebook pages were chosen based on the following criteria: number of following and reach, type of content created (e.g. memes, opinion posts, videos, fake news, etc.), identifying either as a Duterte supporter or critic, and engagement on specific issues. For audience interaction, the comments section of Rappler posts were looked at. The issues that these influencers engage with are those that have polarised political discourse in the Philippines: human rights, relations with China, and COVID.