MANILA, Philippines – A new study found that supporters of Presidential candidates Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Vice President Leni Robredo were actively mixing hashtags in favor of their respective competitor, as a strategy to communicate with supporters of their competitor’s camp.
Hashtags are a feature that allow discoverability on a certain topic on Twitter, automatically grouping tweets that use specific hashtags together. The study, entitled “Reaching out: Exploring the use of a competitor’s hashtag on Twitter,” was conducted by Marissa Liponhay, and Christian Alis of the Asian Institute of Management.
During a #FactsFirstPH briefing on Friday, April 8, co-author Liponhay presented their findings, gathering 386,814 public tweets from January 15 to March 16, 2022, which were then categorized as either “Pro-Robredo,” “Pro-Marcos,” or “Mixed” which contained hashtags belonging to both groups.
Liponhay pointed out the following findings of the study:
- “Pro-Robredo” hashtags in favor of the Robredo included #MarcosDuwag, #LetLeniLead, and #SolidSnort. “Pro-Marcos” hashtags in favor of Marcos included #LeniDuwag, #LetLeniLeave, and #SolidNorth.
- Reference tweets in both groups were found to mix hashtags in favor of Marcos or Robredo, while simultaneously expressing support for their competitor instead, and;
- Marcos and Robredo’s supporters were actively mixing hashtags of each other’s candidates for further engagement. Positive content of most common reference tweets of Robredo that were also mixed with other hashtags supposedly going against her, possibly imply a strategy to reach out to Marcos supporters as well.
This behavior between the two groups of supporters on Twitter has been analyzed in a previous #FactsFirstPH study, where both election-related tweets of Robredo and Marcos supporter showed political polarization that facilitates the spread of fake news and disinformation.
In January, Twitter also suspended over 300 accounts from Marcos’ supporter base for violating the company’s platform manipulation and spam policy.
‘Pro-Robredo’ vs. ‘Pro-Marcos’
The tweet parameters considered in the study were: the average age of the account, influencers defined as accounts with more than 100,00 followers, and reference tweets which were shared again by way of quoting or retweeting.
79.29% of tweets in the study were found to be “Pro-Robredo” while 11.76% was found in the “Pro-Marcos” group, while 8.95% was categorized as “Mixed.” Despite the lowest number of authors or users in the “Mixed” group, the daily volume of tweets from this group is larger, producing more tweets on average at 18.3 tweets per user than the other groups.
With only 11.76% of tweets in the study found to be actively mixing hashtags, this implies that among the users in this dataset, most do not use a hashtag of the competitor’s side. This indicates that the practice of mixing hashtags is being utilized as a strategy to communicate with the competing camp’s supporters on the site, or to further engagement and discoverability on the platform generally.
#LetLeniLead dominated the hashtags in the “Pro-Robredo” group while #LeniDuwag dominates the hashtags in the “Pro-Marcos” group in terms of volume. In the “Pro-Robredo” group, the number of influencers reached 12,000 while the “Pro-Marcos” group had only 104 influencers.
Reaching ‘echo chambers’
Nine reference tweets in favor of Robredo are being mixed with hashtags in favor of Marcos, and all of these advocate positively for Robredo. On the other hand, the top one reference tweet with a hashtag in favor of Marcos that is being mixed with hashtags for Robredo contains content expressing support for Robredo, instead.
The study found that supporters of both Marcos and Robredo camps are actively mixing hashtags. Whether intentional or not, the usage of two opposing hashtags is an indication of an attempt to be seen by the members of the other group, and possibly engage with one another.
Most tweets analyzed in the study common to “Pro-Robredo” and “Mixed” groups all advocated for Robredo, and did not state anything negative about the former senator. This implies that Robredo’s supporters attempt to spread the positive aspects about her to Marcos’ supporters by using hashtags in favor of him.
Positive content of most common reference tweets of Robredo possibly imply a strategy to reach out to what is referred to as the “echo chambers” of Marcos supporters, or the likelihood of those with the same political mindset to only engage with one another.
This study is part of #FactsFirstPH’s efforts in studying and tackling disinformation online, to equip voters with verified information ahead of the upcoming national and local 2022 elections. #FactsFirstPH is a coalition of more than 120 groups from the media, civil society, business, research, legal sectors, and the Church, that seek to combat disinformation. – Rappler.com