4 ways ‘traditional politics’ corrupted and squandered social media in 2016 

As the 2016 campaign enters the homestretch, let there be no doubt that social media, digital and technology didn’t change the system of “trapos” or traditional politics as the Philippines has always known it. 

It is a cause of frustration to the youth and the middle class who may have nursed expectations about social media, digital and technology helping innovate and modernize our moribund politics. The reverse happened.  

Content and substance

First, social media merely reflected the “trapo” campaigns’ use of the old politics of personality and obfuscation. Candidates and parties made no serious effort to maximize the nearly infinite cloud to present the most detailed plans and platforms.There were bite-sized and infographic-type versions of their platforms alright, but the substance is absent. That would have shown both depth and differences – a basis for a superior battle of ideas among the candidates, campaigners and supporters.

It was entirely possible, if only the candidates thought of waging such type of platform-based campaigns. But the “trapos” did not detract from their tried-and-tested ways.

This lack of substance or substantive content became a stomping ground of rival “troll armies” and the basis or reason behind the infantile, personality-driven “debates”.

The campaigns may not admit it but “trolling” best summarizes the social media strategy of trapos in 2016. The memes were their favorite content type. Trolls were their community managers. The “call to action” was to be a fan, a hater, a troll or a combination.

Ask Malacanang about this. They have practiced this kind of social media strategy since 2010. When rivals gave them a dose of their own medicine, the Yellow Army could only whimper, complain and launch self-parodies like “stop the hate” and “silent no more.”

Organization

Unlike businesses, non-profits and movements which have started to see digital as a way to organize their consumers, supporters and advocates, ‘trapos’ didn’t at all bother.

There were hundreds or thousands of Facebook Pages and Groups devoted to promoting “trapo” content – personality politics, memes and a sprinkling of what could be passed off as “platforms” – to fans and followers.

I think it should be now obvious that no candidate or party used digital to build a party or movement down to the precinct or barangay level. There may be lots of fans but there are no party members recruited among them.

It could be viewed as a missed opportunity to transform the Liberal Party, UNA, Partido Galing at Puso, PDP-Laban, and PRP into mass-based parties, with citizens as actual members and with roles to play in both the party and campaign.

Or it wasn’t at all considered because it would have have meant a radical shift from the elitist character of the parties, candidates, and leaders. There obviously was no shift whatsoever. The elites still own the parties, the candidates still depended on the old party structures, and supporters are viewed only as fans or audiences.

Had the campaigns made an effort to innovate the way of organizing supporters – by turning fans into members of parties and movements, they could have depended less on on the old ways, the political dynasties, and ‘trapo’ operations. We would only find out in the future the potential of new online and offline organizations of parties and movements.

Campaign finance

The most obvious elitist face of the ‘trapo’ campaign is the area of campaign finance. Yet again, there was no meaningful departure from the old ways of raising money for campaigns.

If the candidates and parties were democratic and transparent about it, they would have asked citizens to support their campaigns financially through donations. This has been done elsewhere in the world, with  fantastic results. 

But here and in this campaign, the candidates still depended on Big Donors, mostly from Big Business and Big Landlords. There was no serious effort to crowdfund a campaign, whether through pass-the-hat means or digitally.

Sayang. We have 15 million citizens who remit money digitally to recipients who also receive them, mostly digitally too. We have banks, ATMs, credit cards, debit cards and what the global e-commerce industry describes as some of the most innovative mobile payment systems. 

An ordinary citizen may not be able to contribute P100 million, that’s for sure. But with the existing infrastructure, a campaign could have enabled 1 million supporters to donate P100 each. That would have been a cool and lobbyist-free P100 million. Then the campaigns could do it again, and again – complete with receipts and e-paper trails.

Because the democratic mindset is not there, the existing infrastructure and digital solutions went unused. The campaigns were either just too damn lazy or too comfortable with receiving upward of P100 million from Big Donors in tried-and-tested non-transparent means.

(Lack of) Innovations

If we look at the campaigns, there is not single one of them that appointed a chief digital/technology director. It would have reflected how the campaigns viewed social, digital and technology in their campaigns.

Well, the campaigns didn’t appoint and they didn’t have such officers. They merely put social, digital and technology under those pre-ordained old “trapo” operations to serve the old “trapo” ends.

Which could party explain the absence of innovations that could only come from either the citizens themselves and with the help of professionals in the social, digital and technology spheres.

Even the Comelec has serious problems understanding social, digital and technology. 

  • It cannot even protect our voter data. It presided over #Comeleak, one of the biggest data breaches in world history. 
  • Buti pa ang timbangan sa palengke, we could check and have authorities calibrate. As to the automated election system and the CVMs, we just have to “trust” Comelec that it works – without source code review and without end-to-end testing.

Never mind the cute special emoticons or that Comelec social media accounts are verified. Those are less important compared to keeping voter data secure and making the AES credible.

And we have to point out that the rival campaigns were and are still quiet about #Comeleak, with the exception of the administration. There are indications that Malacañang staff and the Roxas campaign staff may be seeding the voter data in torrents.

Okay, the Palace, Comelec, candidates, and parties have websites, Facebook Pages, verified accounts. Fantastic.

But the “trapo” mindset of elitism and mediocrity didn’t change in this era of social, digital, and technology. They made the era fit their ends. The “trapos” infected the new fora and new arenas with their vile and rotten DNA. Frustrating.

First published in the Manila Bulletin on 30 April 2016. Republished here with edits and revisions.

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