THE Philippines ranks eighth among the countries in the world with the most number of Facebook users, which is probably why those vying to become president of the country are making sure they have a presence on the popular social networking site and other online media.

In September last year, there were only 4,832,040 Facebook users in the country, putting the Philippines in 13th place in the world in terms of number of users, said Vera Files trustee Luz Rimban during a seminar-workshop last week at Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino.

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But by December last year, the country had zoomed to eighth place, after the number of its Facebook users nearly doubled to 8,387,560, Rimban said.

Of the more than 350 million active users of Facebook worldwide, more than 84 million users are in the United States and more than 20 million in the United Kingdom.

In the same workshop, Ellen Tordesillas, Malaya columnist and Vera Files trustee, said there are Facebook accounts promoting the presidentiables and other candidates of the May elections, while other accounts are put up to be critical of particular candidates.

She said presidential candidate Manny Villar has a big presence on Facebook because he also puts ads there.

Tordesillas said there were 24 million Internet users in the Philippines at the end of last year, of whom 51 percent used social networking sites.

Two major groups using the Internet are the youth and the overseas Filipino workers (OFW).

The 11 million youth, or those 18-35, compose 22 percent of the voting population. On the other hand, there are 8.5 million OFWs.

Tordesillas warned about the many websites cropping up, saying some looked like they were just promoting clean elections, but since the identities of the ones who put up the sites are not disclosed, the motives of such sites are suspect.

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Facebook and other sites like Twitter, as well as the phenomenon of blogging, have become popular, because they enable all kinds of people to publish their own information and release this straight to the people they want to reach.

Worldwide, the average Facebook user spends more than 55 minutes a day on Facebook, and writes 25 comments on Facebook content monthly, said Rimban.

In addition, he becomes a fan of two pages each month and is invited to three events a month, which has implications for both business and politics.

The microblogging site Twitter had 75 million user accounts last December. Twitter averages 6.2 million new accounts a month, she said.

While 40 percent of Twitter account holders have never sent a single “tweet,” Rimban said media, as well as personalities involved in the May elections, are now using the service to alert people on the news and lead them to particular news stories or websites.

Blogging was a big force in the US presidential campaign that sent Barack Obama to the White House in 2008, in particular, in the area of campaign financing.

Rimban said Obama’s online campaign generated three million online donors and raised more than $600 million, “most of it online.” (CTL)