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The role social media play in modern politics
Grace J. Go

 

The 2016 elections was dubbed “The Philippines First Social Media Election” with a “wowing” number of around 41 million Filipinos, who are 18 to 65 years old and are active Facebook users participating. Of course, Baguio residents form part of this crowd.

During the ensuing campaign period, Facebook and other social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter became our team and the entire nation’s go-to source of information. Social media became the place where candidates and citizens alike were able to access information, news, updates on pressing issues and keep abreast about competing candidates’ background information, their platforms of governance and viewpoints on issues, speeches, official statements, and even places they visited. In this regard, social media has leveled the playing field for politicians. 

I’d like to share with you some words from Baguio Rep. Marquez “Mark” Go in his first 365 days report to the people of Baguio. He said, “The transition from a private person to a public figure was initially challenging, and through those days after my assumption in office, I have realized that indeed serving you is a privilege I could not take for granted, and equally a calling where personal comfort is always treated negligible for the sake of the greater good. Your voice remains today my surest guide in everything that I plan, and decide to do in the halls of Congress, and within the domain of a God-blessed Baguio City.”

As daughter and social media manager of the Go campaign, I felt my father and our family’s burden of transitioning from a private to public individuals.

To be in the public eye is something new (and still at times uncomfortable) for our family who prefers to be low key.

Social media does have many benefits, but also drawbacks. Today, there are still a number of public figures who still have not chosen to be active on social media and for very valid reasons. The quote by Brene Brown sums it up, “It’s harder to hate someone in person than to judge behind the wall of social media.” Social media creates an accessible avenue that further brings politics to the proverbial “front door” closer than it’s ever been before. Unfortunately, the lack of editorial oversight, unwarranted criticism, unauthenticated news or worse fabricated news is all real possibilities in this realm. 

Many politicians and public figures around the world have borne the brunt of social media’s double-edged sword. Mishaps are common and almost a daily occurrence. A quick search of Google will show how many politicians, public figures, and even huge global brands have been victims of either self-inflicted wounds through not carefully vetting their social media content, or heavy criticisms from users who comment on their posts.

These were some of the many issues the Go Team considered in deciding whether to be active on social media or not during the campaign period. Nevertheless, the congressman’s choice to harness this electronic media channel, despite the undesired scrutiny he may receive, allowed him to fully embrace stepping out of the cocoon of his private life to let the people of Baguio know who he is and what he stands for.

Social media gives him both push and pull options. Push gives him the ability to send information out about his values and principles, plans, and what he is currently working on. Prior and after winning the elections, dissemination of information plays a huge part in his commitment of accountability to the people of Baguio. A plethora of information was shared to his social media audience during the campaign period – from vlogs (short video messages) to campaign jingles to pictures in the campaign trail that were all sent by a click of a button to his followers. I believe that the key to his page’s growth and interest from followers is authenticity – communicated through the content shared. My favorite example would be his vlogs. Dad really enjoyed creating his vlogs and sharing about his experience on the campaign trail as he was able to be himself, while being honest and sincere about how he was helping to make a difference in the community. The people of Baguio responded to a lot of these vlogs very favorably and I believe they appreciated his candor.

Now, having been elected, the role of social media has evolved in his role as a legislator. Social media informs him quickly about how his constituents feel about specific issues related to bills and how they would like him to vote. Two examples come to mind on how social media helps bring forth relevant information from stakeholders in the community. Constituents voiced out their opinions on social media regarding the recent Absolute Divorce Bill and last year’s Death Penalty Bill. Even months before the Lower House voted on the two bills, constituents started voicing their views.

To be particular, during the deliberation period on the Death Penalty Bill, some constituents voiced out online that the real issue was the country’s judicial system rather than reviving the death penalty, while others claimed that the death penalty would cause criminals to think twice about committing a crime. Both are valid points. Rep. Go was able to see all of these inputs from his constituents on Facebook using his mobile device. This shows the power and convenience of social media in helping him check the pulse of the community on specific issues and more importantly, used this as a benchmark on how to vote. Without social media, this would have been very challenging.

There are many pros and cons in using social media and it is evident that the positive ones outweigh the negative ones. “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”  Warren Buffet said it best. This quote is so pertinent when engaging in social media especially in politics. What truly matters is how you will use this medium. Social media can be compared to personal habits as they can work for you or against you. If you use it with integrity to post honest and authentic content, and listen to your followers, you will reap the rewards of loyal support. On the other hand of course, the inverse of this is true.

Meanwhile, the Go Team is constantly improving and we have much to learn. We will never fully know everything that there is to know about social media, but here are some principles we learned along the way and some principles Rep. Go instilled about how we should manage our social media presence:

We’re always reminded that politics can be a precarious game. We never meddle or take advantage of people and their beliefs, however we’ve seen instances when other people on social media were hostile towards our campaign. We always take the high road of respect and humility to other people’s opinions even when they differ from our own.

Do good and be good. Always (not only on social media). “If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.” – Marcus Aurelius  

Be authentic.  “Authenticity requires a certain measure of vulnerability, transparency, and integrity.” – Janet Louise Stepenson

Listen. “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus

Double-check everything.  It’s always good to have redundancy that is having someone else check grammar, spelling, and intent of the message to make sure the point is clear. Catching just one bad mistake will make all that effort worth it. And don’t worry if you make a mistake, humbly admit to it and learn from it.

The camp of Rep. Mark Go regularly updates the public of the status of his proposed measures at the Lower House through his social media account.

 

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