October 19, 2022
MANILA — Mainstream news media remains the public’s chief source of information, but in the last elections social media influencers got more visible in shaping political discourse, according to a pioneering research from the University of the Philippines (UP) that looked into the country’s digital public sphere during the past national polls.
News media’s influence diminished and their reach became increasingly limited to the news-reading public further into the election year, based on the findings of the 2022 Digital Public Pulse Survey conducted by the Philippine Media Monitoring Laboratory.
In contrast, the UP research said, nontraditional political actors, such as social media influencers, content creators, social media accounts and ordinary users became central key players in the political discourse and in advancing the agenda of the candidates and political networks.
The study, led by scholars from UP College of Mass Communication-Department of Communication Research, examined major social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, from May 9, 2021, to Election Day on May 9, 2022.
It found, among others, that despite the multiple sources of information now available online, “news media continues to be relevant in election discourses online.”
Movers of conversation
“However, their influence appears limited in the network, and it appears that they are only able to reach those who have affinities toward the news,” it noted. “They are isolated in specific communities, and their content is only shared by the same audiences.”
Media entities, such as Rappler, ABS-CBN, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, and Manila Bulletin, were “major mover(s) of election conversation,” but other media outlets like Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) — owned by controversial televangelist Apollo Quiboloy — also quickly increased in influence.
But by the peak of the election season, they were overtaken by politicians, like then-presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his running mate, Sara Duterte, who later became the go-to source of users on Facebook.
On Twitter, the study found that privately owned mainstream news media, such as Rappler, ABS-CBN News, Inquirer and Philippine Star, were typically found in clusters associated with accounts aligned with then-presidential candidate and former Vice President Leni Robredo.
Meanwhile, religious-affiliated media like SMNI and state-owned news media like PTV were usually with Marcos-aligned accounts.
“Robredo-aligned accounts appeared to be news-reading audiences, based on their integration with privately owned mainstream news sources, while Marcos-aligned accounts were more attuned to religious and government-owned media, based on their clustering with accounts, such as SMNI and PTV,” the study noted.
As a group, news media were retweeted, replied to, quoted and mentioned the most during the election year. In particular, Rappler, Inquirer, and ABS-CBN News were the most popular and had the highest interactions in the network.
On YouTube, the mainstream news media channels were still the most visible source of news and political information, but their “importance” in terms of page rankings declined every quarter leading to Election Day.
While they were the largest community on the platform at the start of the election season, they were eventually dominated by Marcos-aligned communities by the second half.
Toward the end of the election season, influencers and content creators overtook the news media’s ability to bridge communities of audience on the platform.
This “indicated either or both their diminishing relevance to audiences’ political interests with their normative coverage of election events and/or the overwhelming number of partisan channels activated nearer the official campaign period and Election Day that have overtaken the traditional authority of news media as the credible source of political information,” the study noted.
Focus on communities
The study recommended that news media consider how to rebuild news-consuming and news-engaging audiences by “focusing on audience communities rather than individual information consumers.”
They also called on social media platforms to “pay attention” to how their structures affect democracies like the Philippines, where disinformation and manipulation are rife.
“(W)hile mainstream news media still towers as a source of election news, they, and their news-reading, news-consuming audiences, have become more distant from the rest of the digital public, as other actors take on more diverse audiences and become preferred news sources by engaging in partisan content creation,” the study noted.