Wednesday July 18, 2018

Wenceslao: Facebook’s move

PREPARATIONS for the midterm elections in May next year has become interesting as the Duterte administration and opposition camps start forming their lineups in the senatorial race. Twelve senatorial posts are open and the number is crucial especially for an administration who sees control of the legislative branch (and even the judiciary) as important in the pursuit of its hawkish governance.

The administration party PDP-Laban has already floated names some of whom may be included in its senatorial slate. Included there is President Rodrigo Duterte’s special assistant Christopher “Bong” Go, Presidential Communications Operations Operations Office (PCOO) assistant secretary Margaux “Mocha” Uson and some reelectionist senators.

The problem is the opposition, which seems awed by Duterte’s still high popularity rating in surveys and whose ranks have been decimated by the transfer of its politician-members to the administration. Vice President Leni Robredo spoke about those transfers last year and the situation haven’t changed much since then. The last we heard is that losing presidential bet Mar Roxas has been asked to lead the opposition senatorial slate.

The 2019 elections will actually determine the direction that the Duterte administration will follow and the realization of one of the president’s campaign promise, which is to initiate a shift to a federal setup. The move to federalism is actually dependent on the president’s popularity and his continued hold on Congress, which has taken the lead in the drive towards federalism.

If the opposition wins big in that election, that would mean many things, including the point that the president’s popularity has waned. It would thus weaken the administration’s position in many aspects of governance. That is what makes the midterm elections next year crucial.

What should worry the administration is that many people have learned from the lessons from the 2016 presidential elections. We all know, for example, how crucial social media was in President Rodrigo Duterte’s win. Will there be a repeat of that experience? I don’t think there would be.

An important development is Facebook becoming consciousness of its being used as an instrument by some sinister forces in manipulating the results of elections. This is an offshoot to the revelation that the firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data from Facebook to influence the results of the elections in the United States that allowed businessman Donald Trump to defeat the Democrats’ Hillary Clinton.

Now Facebook is monitoring the elections in some countries and finding ways to defend the social media network’s integrity. Facebook’s fact checkers in the Philippines are the formidable Rappler and Vera Files that are controlled by veteran journalists. Facebook is also clamping down not only on the spread of fake news but also the creation of fake accounts, a strategy used in the 2016 polls.

Facebook will surely use the country’s midterm elections to test the new setup it is instituting to prevent the platform from being used in the manipulation of elections. That surely would affect the campaign strategy of the administration.