Blog Watch: How bloggers sparked online citizen advocacy
Exactly 5 years ago today, November 24, a small group of bloggers launched what they thought would be a 6-month foray into voters education. Looking ahead to the 2010 elections, they just wanted to do their share for the country by using their respective online networks to spread information that would be helpful for voters. Little did they know that what they began that day would help spark the growing flame that is now referred to as 'citizen advocacy'.
Here is Blog Watch’s story as told by two of its co-founders, Noemi Lardizabal-Dado and Jane Uymatiao.
Noemi: (On Blog Watch’s humble beginnings)
A bloggers' meetup with Mar Roxas in 2008 brought me to the realization that politicians will actually meet with bloggers as elections approach.
The Philippine Center for Journalism (PCIJ) knew the importance of bloggers for the 2010 election. PCIJ invited me for a training seminar on “Covering Elections in the Era of Internet and Automation” on August 26, 2009.
Fate was on my side when a chance meeting with Kristine Mandigma, Program director of Vibal Foundation, heard of my training and invited me with other bloggers to start a citizens' portal for the Philippine Online Chronicles (POC)
Jane: (On the first Blog Watch meeting and how it got its name)
In 2009 Noemi asked if I wanted to do voters education to take advantage of our readership network. Noemi rallied other blogger friends to join, too. Mind you, most of us were just food, travel, mommy, and tech bloggers.
We met up in October 2009. Someone suggested we give our group a name. Noemi wanted the word ‘Blog’ since we were all bloggers. I contributed the word ‘Watch’ as the action word. On November 24, 2009, "Blog Watch" was formally announced to the press. We did not know it then but Blog Watch would live up to the name we originally gave it – bloggers/netizens watching what is happening to the country.
Noemi: (On the birth of the #Juanvote community)
It was decided that Blog Watch would interview presidential candidates so we could scrutinize their platforms and vision for the country. Getting appointments with presidential candidates was a challenge at first. Using our own network of friends, we managed to invite 7 out of the 9 presidential candidates.
While conducting interviews, we simultaneously tweet, plurk (works similarly to Twitter but in 210 characters) or post on Facebook. It was not uncommon to see us holding up a camera in one hand while holding a mobile phone in the other for livestreaming.
For the first time too, social media through #Juanvote covered the first automated election through a collaboration with other netizens.
Jane: (On the uphill struggle to gain credibility and discovering our real identity and purpose)
The media model in 2009 was mainly via mainstream media. So when we began writing, interviewing, livestreaming, and opening online video channels, media organizations asked us if we were 'citizen journalists' or 'citizen media'.
Our real purpose for existence was not to bring news to the public; that was for mainstream media to do. We were ordinary citizens, enabled by technology and social media with an online voice, so we could push for reforms, effect social change, and achieve social good. It meant taking a stand, to advocate. We were "citizen advocates"!
It is a continuing effort to stay credible, present all sides of an issue and write responsibly. Blog Watch has writers with views that span left-, right-, and center-of-field perspectives. Mainstream media continues to be our source of information but our strength remains in the use of social media over different platforms.
Noemi: (On why Blog Watch decided to continue and what issues it has been involved in)
During our launch, we announced to the press that the Blog Watch project is only for the duration of the campaign. After the elections , Blog Watch decided to continue on and shift its focus towards citizen empowerment.
Bloggers continue to write a wide range of topics on digital citizenship, environment, labor issues, human rights, education, children’s rights, maternal wellness, disaster risk reduction, internet freedom, and good governance. We currently maintain two Twitter hashtags – #epalwatch and #spamtextwatch – to host netizen reports.
Despite the limited funding and other challenges, Blog Watch is here to stay. Collaboration is taking place with Project Agos for our common goal to address climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.
For citizen empowerment, we will continue to tap our #Juanvote network and collaborate with the Computer Professionals' Union (CPU) VoteReportPH project that utilizes the Ushahidi Platform and Frontline SMS.
Jane: (On the future of Blog Watch)
A challenge before Blog Watch now is going beyond cyberspace to reach out to offline citizens. We hope to expand our #Juanvote community. At the same time, it’s important to remain alert to new social media platforms that allow us to also connect with those without internet access.
It is difficult to say exactly how future technology will enable netizens differently on social media. But Blog Watch aims to remain as flexible as it was in 2009.
There’s one thing we know for sure: we do what we do to create the kind of government we have always dreamed of for our children – one that is transparent and operates with good governance. By helping empower all citizens to use social media for social good, we hope to live to see that part of the vision for a government “of the people, by the people...” – Rappler.com
Websites: blogwatch.ph, blogwatch.tv
Facebook page: facebook.com/blogwatchph
YouTube channel: youtube.com/blogwatchdotph