Twitter map: No real party system

Maria A. Ressa, Russell Shepherd
Team PNoy and UNA reinforce the personality-driven dynamics of past elections rather than any semblance of true party politics

MANILA, Philippines – There is little difference between the Philippines’ two major political coalitions competing for voters in the May 2013 mid-term elections – validated by the social media communities on Twitter on the first day of national campaigns.

The administration coalition’s TeamPNoy, led by President Benigno Aquino, and the opposing coalition United Nationalist Alliance, UNA, led by the triumvirate of Vice President Jejomar Binay, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former President Joseph Estrada, reinforce the personality-driven dynamics of past elections rather than any semblance of true party politics. 

Some analysts say the 2013 elections will show not just how weak the Philippines’ political party system is but how those parties have now been reduced to irrelevance. Carmel Abao and Elissa Lao, part of Ateneo de Manila’s political science faculty, wrote: “The message of both camps is the same: in Philippine elections, political parties do not really matter.

A Rappler study looking at social networks and the communities they form on Twitter during the first day of national campaigns on Feb 12, 2013 supports that idea and shows neither TEAMPNoy nor UNA may offer anything substantially different from each other because they are embedded in the same community, the same social network.

We used algorithms to select and color-code communities of accounts that move in the same circles. The node size for each account shows its clout or power to spread a message – what social network theory calls the eigenvector centrality.  This assumes that ties to highly central actors are more important than ties to peripheral actors; it’s the summed connections to others – “not what you know but who you know.”  The node size uses a scaled version of Google’s PageRank to show importance.

The map clearly shows the Twitter accounts of the two major competing political coalitions, administration @TeamPNoy2013 and opposition @UNAsaSENADO, are actually part of the same community (shown in magenta above).  That same social network includes the Liberal Party, @LiberalPH, which catapulted President Benigno Aquino into power in the 2010 elections. 

Intuitively, that makes sense, particularly since the leaders of both political coalitions are running the Philippine government.

“We’re all running in a small yard with very little participants.  We’ve had a very personality-oriented politics,” says Lberal Party spokesman & Marikina 2nd District Rep. Miro Quimbo in Rappler’s Talk Thursday on Feb. 21, 2013.  “It’s not simply because of the weakness of the political system – meaning we are weak political parties.  Those are all given.”

Although Quimbo says LP runs on a platform, he defines it as “governance, meaning accountability” – no different from the way UNA defines its platform. UNA says it’s different in 1 respect: “We’re not elite. We are the party of the masses,” UNA spokesperson JV Bautista tells Rappler.  

Quimbo is straightforward. Even as he says his coalition is running on a platform, he firmly anchors that platform on the largest personality in Philippine politics today – President Aquino. Essentially, he says if you like what Mr Aquino has done, then vote  TeamPNoy.

“We treat this election really as a referendum of the president,” says Quimbo. “We’ve never seen a president that puts his 2 1/2 years on the line, some say unnecessarily, but the president needs to be able to get that affirmation – and to get the necessary support to hammer out difficult laws which are forthcoming.”

That’s a view disputed by Vice President Jejomar Binay, who says reforms began much earlier than this Aquino.  He reminds voters of the strong ties which bind both coalitions.

Ang problema sa kanila, inaangkin nila lahat. Bakit ako, yellow din ako ah. Nagsimula ako sa yellow at ako naglilingkod sa Kabinete ni Pangulong Noynoy. Ang hirap sa kanila, gusto nila sila lang. Bakit naman kami hindi?” (The problem with them is that they claim everything. I’m yellow too. I started yellow and I served in the Cabinet of President Noynoy. The problem with them, they want to be exclusive. Why exclude us?)

Rappler’s Ayee Macaraig followed UNA through the first two weeks of its campaign.  She describes a performance combining teleserye show business, name recall, platform and politics.”  Don’t expect those tactics to be significantly different for TeamPNoy, which just has different personalities.

“This system doesn’t work to develop political parties,” political analyst David Timberman tells Rappler.  An American who has observed the Philippines for nearly 3 decades, he is the author of A Changeless Land: Continuity and Change in Philippine Politics.

“Where the system ends and where culture and economic interests begin is a very murky area,” adds Timberman. “The political system has to be structured so there are incentives for building meaningful parties. Right now, that just doesn’t exist.”

Rappler monitored the spread of 3 hashtags at the start of national campaigns: the administration’s #TeamPNoy, #UNAsaCEBU (chosen by UNA), and Rappler’s own conversation #PHvote.  The map above shows the communities formed when you put all three hashtags together.

Using an analysis program called Twitalyzer, we measured each hashtag’s effective reach, “a realistic representation of any user’s reach in Twitter at any give time.” Tweet impressions show the “estimated distribution of any conversation being discussed on Twitter using that hashtag.”

In terms of reach, #TeamPNoy was the weakest at 15,184,028 tweet impressions.  It was followed by #UNAsaCEBU, which had 102, 295,490 impressions.  #PHvote hit 201,153,987 impressions, one of the largest we’ve seen on Twitter in the year we’ve been mapping conversations in the Philippines.

An interesting side-point: Russell Shepherd, who created the maps and developed software used by the US Department of Defense to monitor the Arab spring on Twitter, took a cursory look at the Twitter map and said, “Knowing little about Philippine politics, I’d say the two coalitions are competing together against a small community that appeared at the bottom right.”  

That community is led by senatorial candidate Teddy Casino and includes Gabriela Philippines.

Stay with Rappler as we map our collective behavior on social media – the Filipino human super-organism – and glean insights about our real world connections and political systems leading to election day.


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Maria A. Ressa

Maria Ressa has been a journalist in Asia for nearly 35 years. As Rappler's co-founder, executive editor and CEO, she has endured constant political harassment and arrests by the Duterte government. For her courage and work on disinformation and 'fake news,' Maria was named Time Magazine’s 2018 Person of the Year, was among its 100 Most Influential People of 2019, and has also been named one of Time's Most Influential Women of the Century. She was also part of BBC's 100 most inspiring and influential women of 2019 and Prospect magazine's world's top 50 thinkers, and has won many awards for her contributions to journalism and human rights. Before founding Rappler, Maria focused on investigating terrorism in Southeast Asia. She opened and ran CNN's Manila Bureau for nearly a decade before opening the network's Jakarta Bureau, which she ran from 1995 to 2005. She wrote Seeds of Terror: An Eyewitness Account of al-Qaeda’s Newest Center of Operations in Southeast Asia and From Bin Laden to Facebook: 10 Days of Abduction, 10 Years of Terrorism.