Long term monitoring of Philippine elections development.

Monday, January 28, 2008

My FAQ on Election Blogging in the Philippines

Here are some questions I get to receive on the subject of election blogging in the Philippines. Feel free to share your insights.

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1. Can you tell us what's been going on in the blogosphere (and the Internet) with regards to politics / 2010 elections?

Movements in the blogosphere has started as early as last year. We will see more ordinary citizens (e.g. Kevin Ray Chua, Team Gordon 2010) putting up blogs to support a particular candidate. In addition, news media (e.g. Inquirer) shall be preparing their site for this purpose as early as now.

I think we live in a time where there is growing concern on where our country is heading. Admittedly, a lot of us are passive and even numb when it comes to discussion of politics. However, there is a unique opportunity to discuss the issues and concerns this year since the political players in the coming election are still not clear. Hopefully, with more bloggers and Internet users participating, we can have a healthy exchange of ideas and learn from each other.

2. Is this something new? Or has it been going on for quite some time?

It is not new. Every time there is an upcoming election, we've seen blogs and even websites coming out with an attempt to provide coverage. Although I am not keen on election sites launched a few months before the election as they tend to profit or take advantage by asking candidates to pay for a prime advertising spot.

3. Is this something we're seeing only in the Philippines?

Not really. We've seen election coverage by bloggers happening in other parts of the world such as the U.S., Australia, among others.

4. Who reads these blogs / websites?

Traditional readers of these blogs are people who are passionate about politics, supporters of politicians, the media, the candidates, and some of the voters too.

5. What are the other trends or the next big thing in the blogosphere / Internet this 2008?

There are many predictions in this area and it includes:
  • Increase in the number of bloggers who'll be hosting their blogs within social networks.
  • Companies to use blogs for information dissemination.
  • Continuous growth in the video and podcast blogging space.
  • On the infrastructure side, availability of wireless Internet to get better and much more affordable this year.
6. What kind of info do you see bloggers giving out there to fill the gap/vacuum? Will you go as far as endorsing candidates since blogs are opinion sites?

There will be bloggers who'll come forward to endorse candidates and share why they are supporting or voting them. However, if there will be a blogging advocacy, individuals and groups may take the effort of bringing local issues forward that is also relevant, although mostly unheard, for most of us.

For instance, I used to live in San Juan. During elections, there's not much information going around on important issues, if there's any, that should guide me when choosing officials to vote for at the local level. I remember just ticking on names of councilors just to fill-up the form even if I haven't heard most of them (with bias to independent candidates).

7. How can we, the readers, know that a particular blogger is not implying his or her endorsement or favoring a candidate when they are presenting issues? (We all know even print opinion writers do that and weave around beautifully.) How can you prove valid someone is inventing issues or spreading black propaganda for political purposes?

The beauty of blogs, its being open in nature, we can call the attention of bloggers to point out a bias in perspective and even questionable facts. In politics, especially elections, we are all entitled to our own opinion as our votes are equal. I guess it can't be helped as well if one's perspective is supportive of another candidate as that politician may have influenced it. What is important maybe is for one to come out clean on who they are supporting, assuming they have made their mind already.

8. Can't the blogger "edit" the feedback he gets or even delete entries all together? (say he doesn't like a comment)

I'm not sure on editing a blog comment as I haven't seen one that allows such. If a blogger suppresses the opinion of a reader, they face the risk of being found out since the reader can approach other sites to post their insight, as long as they permit, or even put up their own blog to express their thoughts. The determined ones will definitely find a way to get their point across.

9. Blogs are viewed as potent tool also for smear campaign against a candidate. Damage has been done especially if read by hundreds or thousands. Are there measures to at least protect the concerned parties?

Any politician running for public office should have a crisis strategy I supposed. That is where having a website or blog where they can interact with readers and answer question can be of help. There are still a lot of readers who don't just believe in everything they read and will definitely welcome an answer or explanation to any accusation. For as long as that is online and available, readers will check it out and pass on the information. It is likely that interested bloggers will link to both sides and give their opinion.

Of course, the candidate can also fight for themselves by filing a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order.

10. I understand that in the U.S., Internet or blogs are viewed as major fund-raising source. Does it apply also in the Philippines? If so, how is it done?

It can also apply in the Philippines but the requirement on Section 99 may make it hard. It is like what if a citizen made a small donation, like P100 to P500, my understanding of the Omnibus Election Code is that the donor is required to go to COMELEC and make a report declaration under oath.

11. How do you organize and educate bloggers for election then? How the blogger, the very public we serve be trained to report a election news?

Concerned bloggers from anywhere in the country can do their share by allotting a blog post about it once in awhile. Forums or seminars (e.g. iBlog, Blog and Soul, Bloggers Kapihan, Mindanao Blogging Summit) giving information to bloggers on election issues can be of help too. Most of this are informal in nature, organized by bloggers themselves, and perhaps that is the way to go.

I also hope that this is one activity that election monitoring groups should seriously consider as there are a lot of bloggers willing to help but don't know how to go about it.

12. How far bloggers can shape public opinion? Just wondering whether clutter of information from bloggers would aid the quality of public discourse or discussion. Do you personally think blogging about elections, at least here in the Philippines, will have a SIGNIFICANT IMPACT on the campaigns? The Filipino Internet User base - its not even assumed they all check out political blogs. Most use the Internet still for emailing, YouTube-ing, Friendster, Multiply, Facebook, etc, etc...

I believe in the premise that each one of us have the capability to influence other people. If the blog post that has the intent of relaying critical election issues goes out and gets read, it may directly or indirectly pass on the information to whoever reads it, and consciously or subconsciously shape their opinion. Getting more bloggers to participate is the key.

Also, blogs today are no longer limited to independent or mainstream blogs. Equally (or even more) important are social networks who have blog or blog related features integrated in them.

It will only have an impact if the Filipino Internet user will allot time or post sharing their opinion about what matters to them in the upcoming election. It is a way to start the discussion where we can also learn from each other in the process.

13. Is there a discipline being followed by bloggers when it comes to coming out with articles?

I noticed that bloggers usually adjust to the community where they identify themselves to and adhere to the practices being followed by their recognized peers.

14. Is there an agency monitoring what's being placed in a blog?

There is none at the moment.

15. You said earlier that a blog site can be shut down if there are complaints against the site. Who has the authority to shut down a site?

If it is a free site, then the one who owns the service can opt to terminate it. If it is a private site, then that would be the web hosting provider. The complainant can report an erring site and cite the reason why it should be shut down such as publishing false information or a violation to the terms of service of the provider. Another option of the complainant is to file a case and seek for a temporary restraining order.

16. How the citizen journalism media keep the high standards of gate-keeping and principle of journalism?

On a pro-active level, interested bloggers can release guidelines so that bloggers who are interested in doing citizen journalism shall have a reference. The check-and-balance normally occurs at the community level where fellow bloggers and readers can call each other's attention or give suggestions for the improvement of one's story presentation.

17. What's the latest data on Internet access among households in the Philippines?

On the conservative side, the estimated number of Internet users today is around 20 million.

18. Are there any studies the effect of an online presence (e.g. blogs, websites, Friendster) on the campaigns of certain candidates?

There is no study on the direct relationship and effect of social networks and political candidates. But it can be said that social networks, being popular with Filipino Internet users today, can provide any politician a venue to reach out to its target market. It has to be done sincerely though in order to be appreciated, rather than be considered as an act of spamming.

19. How bloggers affected the voting of Senators Trillanes, Escudero, and Pangilinan who used the Internet?

Their presence, even through their Internet representatives, helped in generating recall. Moreso if they are known as real or active Internet users which the three are. The Internet community may have helped them and a small segment of that are bloggers.

In the case of Senator Chiz Escudero, I remember covering a live chat event where he was the resource person and I blogged about it. That gave a positive impression for being reachable as his responses was spontaneous.

Senator Francis Kiko Pangilinan was already Internet-savvy even before he became a full-fledge politician. I recall that he was the only candidate who tagged along well-established bloggers to join and cover his election campaign caravan.

Senator Antonio Trillanes supporters used various online media to promote him during the campaign. I guess the principles that he stood for at that time got a lot of response and it was a simple way for the people to say that the vote given to him shall serve as a reminder of people's concern on corruption in government.

20. Do you agree with journalists having blogs?

Yes, I believe that journalists get to see so many things behind the scenes that doesn't get reported or included in their stories. They see a lot of things that ordinary citizens like us don't know and may have insights worth sharing.

21. What about libel? Has a blogger been charged for libel?

There were a few libel cases in the past that dwell on intrusion to privacy filed against an investigate media blog, grievances by customers against a pre-need company, libel case against service providers on blog comments.

22. Is this initiative getting any attention from the media and encouragement from bloggers?

Yes, in addition to insights sharing, this effort is also getting attention from the media and fellow bloggers alike. Such as:I hope this helps.