Philippine Elections 2022: TikTok in Bongbong Marcos' Presidential Campaign.

AuthorMendoza, Maria Elize H.

How did a Chinese video app famous for dance routines and food trends help swing a Philippine election? Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., led all pre-election surveys for the May 2022 presidential elections by a wide margin, and ultimately won almost 59 per cent of the vote, making him the first president to win an election with a majority under the 1987 Constitution. Apart from his pitch for national unity, Marcos Jr.'s campaign featured the glorification of his father's legacy. In the years leading to the 2022 elections, Marcos Jr. heavily invested in establishing his presence on social media, and his efforts were not limited to the same old platforms that he relied on in his 2016 vice presidential run.

In 2019, the media outlet Rappler published a three-part study on "networked propaganda" featuring the rise and spread of pro-Marcos pages and channels on Facebook and YouTube. (1) These pages and channels have primarily engaged in promoting the Marcos family and spreading disinformation by distorting the historical narratives about the dictatorship of Marcos Sr. According to Rappler's investigation, the false narratives propagated by these pages include denials about the corruption and human rights abuses under Marcos Sr.'s regime and exaggerating the late dictator's achievements, especially with inflated accounts of his infrastructure projects.

These false narratives have found themselves a captive audience. Data from April 2022 revealed that Filipinos are second in the world for time spent online (averaging around 10 hours and 27 minutes each day), (2) with Facebook and YouTube being the top two social media platforms in terms of registered users. In September 2021, Pulse Asia reported that 99 per cent and 57 per cent of Filipino internet users have Facebook and YouTube accounts, respectively. (3) Coming in third is TikTok, a video-sharing platform that was launched in 2017 by the Chinese company ByteDance. TikTok rose to global fame by becoming a source of popular dance challenges, internet pranks and other entertaining content. In 2021, TikTok was the most downloaded mobile application in the world. (4) The Philippines is ranked seventh in the world for TikTok usage as of May 2022, with 40.4 million active users aged 18 and above. This means more than a third of the Philippine population is on TikTok. (5)

TikTok's popularity can be attributed to the following factors. First, it thrives on short-form contents that range from 15 seconds to three minutes. The platform offers intuitive tools for users to create videos that can be adorned with graphic effects, text and background music. Second, TikTok's algorithm collects similarly themed videos based on the user's engagements (likes, comments, shares and saved videos) which are then collated in a personalized homepage called the "For You Page" (FYP). One of TikTok's distinct features is its endless scrolling feature in the FYP that allows users to swipe quickly from one video to the next. Overall, TikTok's algorithm caters to users' personal tastes and is designed to keep them immersed in the platform for an indefinite amount of time.

The popularity of TikTok among Filipinos has made the platform susceptible to the spread of disinformation and distortion of historical facts. Apart from COVID-19 conspiracy theories, one of the top disinformation themes on TikTok included the idea that Marcos Sr. presided over the so-called "golden age" of the Philippines. (6) In December 2021, VERA Files, a Philippine nonprofit independent media organization, released a report indicating that most...

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