Cybercampaigning for 2010: The Use and Effectiveness of Websites and Social Networking Sites as Campaign Platforms for the 2010 Philippine Presidential Election
4th Communication Policy Research: South Conference, Negombo, Sri Lanka
19 Pages Posted: 17 Feb 2010
Date Written: December 8, 2009
In May 2010, 50 million Filipinos are expected to vote at 350,000 precincts to elect a president, vice president, and nearly 300 members of Congress as well as more than 17,000 local officials (Echeminada, 2009). For years, traditional mainstream media (TMM) - television, radio and print - have served as the primary platforms of political ads during election period, with candidates and parties spending millions of dollars worth of campaign money. With increasing internet penetration, candidates have begun to invade cyberspace - from websites to social networking sites (SNS) - turning the internet into a campaign platform.2 It is imperative to ask whether the internet has the potential to transform election campaigning in the Philippines into one that is more affordable, interactive, and empowering for voters.
This paper presents the results of an exploratory-descriptive study on cybercampaigning in the Philippines for the 2010 presidential election. With the cyberspace normalization equalization/innovation theories as its framework, the study conducted an analysis of website content and feature adopting the method of Bentivegna (2002a) and Gibson, Margolis, Resnick, & Ward (2003) to determine how and to what extent presidential aspirants3 use websites vis-à-vis their overall campaign strategy for TMM. The study also conducted an online survey of 72 respondents drawn from aspirants’ SNS accounts over a two-month period to look at how potential voters perceive the Internet as a campaign platform. In-depth interviews with key informants and experts were carried out to triangulate findings.
Results show normalization at play in Philippine cybercampaigning, as most websites were found to focus on candidate information, web services, and creative ways to provide information online, while missing opportunities to more actively engage voters. The networking and mobilization features of websites remain underutilized, although there is promise seen in the creation of “teams” of core supporters online that could potentially build the foundation of edge-based organizations that empower voters to participate in campaigns. In general, most presidential aspirants use the internet merely to supplement TMM campaigning, as content and strategy hardly varied online and offline. Despite having a biased sample,4 online visitors in the sample consider TMMs, particularly television and newspaper, as their main sources of information about the 2010 election and presidential aspirants. Although “veteran” internet users and politically active, they seem to have little expectation from cybercampaigning platforms and see them as just a source of more detailed information about candidates. Due to economic and trust issues, respondents are unlikely to give campaign contributions, either offline or online. Similarly, the infrastructure to solicit online contributions from voters is not present. The more ubiquitous mobile phone is seen as the more appropriate ICT for election campaigning among Filipino voters. Finally, there is a grey area in regulating cybercampaign platforms, since the internet has no privileged center and single source of information. As an open venue for political discussion and engagement of voters, the study does not recommend subjecting cybercampaigning to any form of regulation in the future.
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