MANILA, Philippines – The popular microblogging platform Twitter recorded a whopping 35 million election-related tweets since the start of the year, prompting one of its excutives to call 2016 "the first Twitter election we've seen in the Philippines."
Rishi Jaitly, Twitter's vice president for Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa, told Rappler that what stood out in the data they gathered was how the ordinary citizens drove the online conversations.
Out of around 50 million registered voters in the country, 48 million are active social media users.
"People power! I haven't seen an election where ordinary citizens and voters have used Twitter and social media to participate in a big way," Jaitly said an interview with Rappler CEO Maria Ressa.
He added that there was this general "idea of a more open, transparent, inclusive election."
From selfies to infographics, "it's tweets from ordinary citizens that are some of the most retweeted." Pop-culture icons, such as bands, have also joined in online conversations.
Of course, never missing from any Filipino conversation, humor played a big role with trends such as #Duriam.
"One of the things we're seeing in the Philippines more than other countries is the bottoms-up, culture-conversation personality is loud and clear," Jaitly said.
Another notable point was that the tweets were not exclusive to the country. Filipinos from all over the world joined the election conversation. Large numbers of overseas tweets were recorder especially from areas like the Middle East and the United States.
"In many ways this election represents the collective personality and purpose of the Philippines," the Twitter executive said.
Election day tweets
On election day itself, 4 million election-related tweets were recorded. This makes up 10% of the whole conversation that had been going on since January.
Conversation picked up and peaked around 10:30 in the morning. It was around this time that Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez posted a tweet referring to the viral photo of teen stars Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla with their ballots. The conversation picked up again around 6:30 pm, around the time the first results were coming in.
A chart from Twitter shows the Share of Voice (SOV) and Share of Authors (SOA) of all the presidential candidates. The SOV is the percentage of tweets about a candidate while the SOA is the percentage of people tweeting about them.
(For more details on these charts, READ: How did the presidential and VP candidates fare on social media?)
Rappler and Twitter partnered for several election-related campaigns.
They released the candidate emojis so users simply had to tweet out either #PHVoteBinay, #PHVoteDuterte, #PHVotePoe, #PHVoteRoxas, or #PHVoteSantiago, and a special emoji would appear beside the hashtag. Twitter officially termed the feature a "hashflag."
Another campaign was the #PHVote emoji. Once the hashtag was tweeted, a hand showing an inked finger would show up. This same image also appeared when #BumotoAko was tweeted.
Twitter and Rappler were in close coordination to release real-time data during major election-related events, such as the 3 presidential debates, the sole vice presidential debates, and Rappler's #TheLeaderIWant senatorial debate series.
A total of 5 million tweets went during the presidential and vice presidential debates.
Politics and governance
"Twitter gives candidates and officials alike the unique power to shape the public covnersation," said Jaitly.
Twitter proved to be a concrete platform where the citizens of the Philippines conversed even about serious issues such as politics. It's now up to the next set of elected officials to find new and creative ways of engaging their citizens online.
"We see a lot of political organizations around the world using Twitter in really creative ways to engage citizens: whether it's our continuing work with the elections commission, whether it's disaster relief, and more. There are all kinds of ways in which to build on this momentum in the Philippines," Jaitly said.
Can Twitter be predictive in terms of seeing who a country is set to elect as its next leaders?
Jaitly said that, although Twitter had no direct involvement in the Philippines' politics, "we did see that Duterte has been leading the conversation with 40% of all presidential candidate mentions, almost as much as the next 2 candidates."
More importantly, Twitter has the ability to become an avenue of discourse between the country's citizens and its government.
"There are ways in which the unique properties of Twitter can help move conversation from the fringe to the mainstream," he said.