The Manila Times : Strategic use of internet is one factor decisively driving 2022 election

24 February 2022

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times

First word

FILIPINO politicians, the media and the public were not quick to see it coming. The internet has not only revolutionized communications and communications technology, it has also revolutionized the practice and study of modern politics, particularly the relationship between voters and candidates.

In our current election cycle, the candidates have not only started to harness the new technology in their campaigns, they are using it in a way that far exceeds traditional media in reaching the minds and hearts of voters.

The ground, I believe, has shifted fatefully from television to the internet and social media, as the medium of choice in modern campaign politics.

When GMA 7 and Jessica Soho tried to bully the candidates and the nation to their self-styled presidential debate, and got burned in the process, it was probably the last big show of clout by a top-ranked broadcast network. Broadcast journalists will be more accustomed to eating humble pie.

Many are bewildered by and uncomprehending of the commanding and dominating lead by Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and Sara Duterte-Carpio in the campaign so far. They strive vainly to find an explanation of what is happening on the campaign trail.

One explanation, I daresay, is the UniTeam's knowledge and understanding of the great potential of the internet for effective campaigning and political communication. Alone among the candidates, Bongbong Marcos and his team have established a very strong presence on the World Wide Web for their campaign. They can reach the entire archipelago in an instant. They can communicate one on one with Filipinos at home and abroad. They have generated a level of excitement and enthusiasm for their campaign that is perhaps unrivaled in Philippine history.

Historically, every new communication technology became a very important factor in politics.

The phenomenon of radio technology began sweeping the United States in the 1920s. Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized the potential of radio for his campaign for the presidency and his presidency. He saw it as a tool for Americans to rise above the Great Depression. In an outstanding feat of political theater, FDR made himself a welcome and trusted presence to millions of people who could just barely afford a radio.

Roosevelt was the first politician to use radio's intimacy powerfully. For more than 300 times during his years as president, FDR took to the microphone to talk to the American people, greeting them "My Friends."

The next communications revolution came with the invention of television. In 1960, John F. Kennedy and his rival vice president Richard Nixon, staged in their 1960 campaigns a string of televised debates that became critical in the election.

It was Kennedy who realized that image was everything in the new medium. He offered glamour where Nixon merely gave speeches on issues. Nixon looked unshaven. He saw television as radio with pictures.

Earlier than radio and television, the great communications revolution was the invention of the printing press. Benjamin Franklin used his ownership of a printing press and publication of an almanac and daily newspaper to bring his political views to a wide public.

Thomas Paine and other patriots exploited pamphleteering to broadcast the reasons for the revolution for American independence.

Here in the Philippines, our own national revolution was ignited by the publication of La Solidaridad, and the release of Jose Rizal's novels, the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

Communications with audiences preceded the historic turns in our national history.

According to Dick Morris in his book Power Plays (Regan Books, New York, 2002), "Each new advance in technology changes the rules of politics, opening the door wider for democracy. Whether the innovation brings the human voice into the American living room, or enables people to establish direct contact, through computer technology, the effect is the same — to freeze the involvement of the public in the political process and to raise the amount of information it receives."

Strategic use of internet

Barack Obama was the first candidate for president to widely harness the power of the internet and online communications to win election to the White House.

There is a case study online on e-marketing that discusses "Barack Obama's Strategic Use of the Internet" in his presidential campaign. I quote from it the following:

"The 2008 US presidential election was historic for many reasons and was keenly followed worldwide. Barack Obama's campaign made unprecedented use of grassroots channels to generate support, encourage voter turnout, and raise funds with savvy use of the Internet to support its campaign. While with hindsight it may be plain to see how much the campaign got right, when Barack Obama started campaigning for the Democratic Party's nomination, he was seen as an outsider. For much of that campaign, the media branded Barack Obama as the underdog.

"The World Wide Web appears daunting to many big businesses and organizations. In politics, especially, few have incorporated the tools of the Web into successful campaigns to date. As with business, the Web was seen as an emerging channel in politics. This meant that the candidates that Obama was running against, in both the campaign for the Democratic nomination and in the presidential campaign, were focused on traditional tactics for gathering support. Not being the frontrunner, Obama needed to engage with voters in new ways in order to succeed. The use of social media made the most of the Obama campaign's greatest strength — its grassroots, community connections.

"When it comes to elections in the United States, young voters are the toughest demographic to reach. It's a challenge shared by many businesses and organizations trying to reach out to a younger audience. They find that traditional channels, such as television advertising, are having less and less of an impact. Instead of watching television, younger people are turning to the internet and their mobile phones for entertainment and for interacting with their friends. Savvy brands that want to reach this market are turning to the same channels.

"The Obama campaign realized early on that without the traditional support enjoyed by the other candidates, it would need to find new ways to raise funds and reach voters.

"The best way to reach these 'people like me' is to use existing social connections and social media. The Obama campaign used this to create a social network that supporters could use to self-organize events, connect with other supporters, and receive feedback and support from the campaign. According to Quantcast figures, this network saw over a million visitors each month, eclipsing 2 million visitors in some months."

What UniTeam has done right

Bongbong Marcos and his campaign team are using much the same formula in designing and executing a clear-eyed and focused strategy to use the Internet strategically to win the May election.

Marcos Jr.'s online presence is unrivaled by his opponents. He has a good campaign website that reports his major appearances and public statements, a lucid explanation of his positions on key issues. There are plenty of popular bloggers who are aligned or committed to the campaign, and they are very entertaining and have a huge following in the country and abroad. You will find in them all the latest media reports on the campaign and the latest surveys.

Whenever there is a new controversy or development, they rise in unison to defend the UniTeam's campaign and to blast the other pretenders to the presidency.

No other campaign comes close to this online.

It is possible the other candidates have only a dim understanding of the internet.

Morris has this final advice to impart: "The key is not just to use the medium but to understand it — to grasp its message, an inescapable impression the media conveys.

"Instead of the one-size-fits all television campaigns that have dominated modern politics, the internet in general — and email in particular — has made possible a conversation between the voters and each candidate about issues and ideas. The interactivity of the Web means an end to 'I talk, you listen' politics."

The campaign of Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte-Carpio is a good example of this new politics and new political communication. No wonder they are not only leading, they are dominating.