Comelec to monitor social media influencers campaigning for candidates

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has set new rules for social media posts and online ads during the campaign period for the May 13, 2019, national and local elections.

Among the lawful campaign materials that will be regulated under Comelec Resolution 10488 are paid posts on social media that are in support of a candidate.

Section 6 says lawful election propaganda will now include "social media posts, whether original or reposted from some source, which may either be incidental to the poster's advocacies of social issues or which may have, for its primary purpose, the endorsement of a candidate only." 

All forms of lawful election propaganda will be covered by the limitations on campaign spending, and will be regulated by Comelec. All ads must clearly indicate which candidate or party is it for, and who paid for it.

Comelec will also monitor "social media associates," defined as "contractors whose primary duty is to promote the election or defeat of any candidate through social media interactions and engagement." 

"Social media associates" include paid influencers and supporters, and even "trolls," said Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez in a text message to Rappler.

They will now be required to submit reports, such as payments for services like creating online posts whether for or against a candidate, as outlined by Comelec in its rules.

Jimenez explained the poll body would determine "whether or not the support is for pay."

"A person who is paid won't be just a citizen supporter anymore," he said, adding that the poll body will have a monitoring team to track social media posts.

Section 11 of Resolution 10488 states that within 30 days after the polls, contractors and business firms should file a report to Comelec with details like the goods and services provided, the candidate who incurred or paid for the expense, and the amount of the expense. It should also be accompanied by official receipts or cash invoices.

Candidates and political parties will also be required to register with Comelec's Education and Information Department "the website name and web address of the official blog and/or social media page" they will use during the campaign.

Any other blog or social media page that primarily endorses a candidate "whether or not directly maintained or administered by the candidate or their official campaign representatives, shall be considered additional official blogs or social media pages of the said candidate," added Comelec in Section 9 of its resolution.

In December, during the drafting of these social media rules, Comelec explained it does not intend to limit the candidates' right to freedom of expression. 

"It's not about content itself. We don't have concerns over what is in the post, but the cost of the material posted," said Jimenez in a mix of Filipino and English.

Comelec Resolution 10488 also defines social media as a "form of mass media." In addition, those who "create online content for personal or collective blogs and micro-blogs" will be considered "media practitioners" under Comelec's new rules.

However, Comelec defines "media practitioners" as persons like talents or block-timers who are "not employed by a media entity but performs similar functions or has control over what is printed or broadcast."

In the 2016 polls, Comelec generally regulated only the sizes of online campaign ads. – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.

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