Social media: Where heartbeats echo drumbeats

Winston A. Marbella
A communication revolution is sweeping our world in ways that Marshall McLuhan foresaw decades ago

The protest action against the scandalous pork-barrel thievery of the people’s money shows the unstoppable power of the new media to trigger political and social change. 

The symbolic target of the protest is President Aquino because he dispenses the pork – although the massive public indignation is focused against government corruption in general.

The President tried to defuse the growing unrest by calling an unscheduled press conference last Friday, August 23. Admitting that his reform program dubbed  “Matuwid na daan” (The straight path) had failed, he said he was abolishing the pork barrel.

Gathering momentum, the protestors vowed to continue the protest march. On the eve of the rally, the President tried to douse the fire in the pork belly: he vowed to go after the thieves of the pork barrel-funded government projects. 

The social networking sites continued to fan the fires roasting the pig. A particularly punchy story went this way: The chicken is “involved” in contributing eggs to our breakfast — but the pig is “committed” by dying to give us its ham.

Social revolutions 

A communication revolution is sweeping our world in ways that the Canadian media visionary Marshall McLuhan foresaw decades ago.

The driving forces of this communication revolution are the Internet and the online culture it has spawned — the social media — which transformed the way people transmit and consume the news. 

The social media, in fact, have turned the new technological processes of transmitting the news into powerful tools of radical social and political change.

The new arsenal of revolutionary change now includes social networking as its most potent weapon, very evident in the changes that swept the Islamic world in the Arab Spring of 2011.  

The social media have replaced television news as the dominant tool of political change. Previously, it took years for public opinion to jell political action. Today it happens in days.   

These revolutionary changes could not have happened without the speed-of-light mobilization provided by the new media. Although dictatorial regimes have learned to clamp down on news coverage by traditional media organizations, they still have to find an effective way to silence social media. 

Boundaries blurring 

The confluence of technology and socio-political change is also transforming even the news itself.

In the interactive world of the Internet, the traditional boundaries between news and opinion have blurred, with netizens conveying both in an odd mixture of digital chatter.

In a reversal of traditional roles, news is now used as a medium for conveying the more attractive gossip that crisscrosses the digital universe hundreds of millions of times per second.  

News has become the carrying medium of opinion, with content, in turn transforming the media that carry news and eventually impacting their economic viability.

For pure news search, Google and Google News lead the pack, accounting for 39% of traffic, according to a study done by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Facebook is fast becoming “a critical player in news,” driving seven to eight percent of traffic to major news organizations. 

Twitter, with 175 million followers compared to Facebook’s 600 million, accounts for only one percent of traffic to news sites. But for keeping updated on celebrity gossip, nothing beats Twitter.

The digital medium has in fact overtaken radio and print in touching people’s lives daily, according to a TNS Digital Life study.

The study by custom research firm TNS covered 93% of the world’s online population via interviews with 72,000 consumers in 60 countries, including the Philippines.

Daily, 89% of the respondents watched TV, 45% went online, and 36% listened to the radio. Only 12% of the respondents read newspapers and only 4% read magazines. 

In this rapidly morphing global village, will the print media survive the onslaught of the social media as the content backbone of the gossipy Internet age?   

The tower of blabber

On days when pollution does not blanket Metro Manila, commuters can see millions of antennas piercing the skyline – a bizarre architectural testament to the electronic icon of our time: television.

Its presence is overwhelming. Television now reaches 70% of all Philippine homes – 99% in Metro Manila — thanks largely to the $25 billion sent home by overseas Filipino workers, which give families almost universal access to television.

Television is now the most pervasive medium of information, although TV news started as an unwanted offspring of a medium designed primarily to entertain.  

TV news gives us a compressed view of history on the run, what James Reston of the New York Times called “the exhilarating chase after the Now.” 

Media researchers have actually timed the average span of the sound bite to be precisely 9.8 seconds, a fleeting moment compared to the three hours or so we spend watching TV on a regular day. 

Significant nuance, intelligent insight, and perceptive analysis are glossed over in the blinding speed of the sound bite. The raised eyebrow passes for sophistication, impressions mimic intelligent commentary, and perceptions become reality.

And so finally stagecraft supplants substance, and the headline-grabbing one-liner surpasses in-depth analysis. 

The purveyor of dreams that was television at its birth has become the theater of the absurd – and news has morphed from catalysts of change to surreal mimics of life on reality TV.

MVP’s moves

If he had his druthers, telecommunications tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP) would like to have the best of both worlds in his growing media empire: intelligent entertainment and entertaining news. 

MVP has got the future of his conglomerates all sorted out in his mind: what fits where and how. Recently he announced plans to launch an English-language news channel, similar to CNN. And he is retooling his print media units to beef up the news analysis content of his television, ABC 5. He’s got bigger things in mind, and he recently gave his shareholders a peek into their digital future which could make their hearts sing.

MVP runs a diversified conglomerate with major assets in roads, hospitals, power and water distribution, and telecommunications. But Smart/PLDT’s mission doesn’t end in keeping leadership in the industry, which it sealed with the buyout of Digital Telecommunications Philippines Inc (Sun Cellular) from the Gokongwei group. Beyond this, PLDT has to transform for the long term, he said.

“The fact is, telcos (telephone companies) will become obsolete,” he told stockholders.  “PLDT has a choice of staying as a utility, as a delivery system, as an infrastructure system… simply being that, like a Meralco.” 

The next frontier

“We have to be something more than that,” he continued. “The next frontier lies in the media space.” 

MVP envisions a future where his companies supply not only the power that people use to charge their cell phones, but also the network they use to go online, and the content they access with their devices.

“Social media will eventually merge with us and us with them,” he said.  PLDT must “move firmly into the social media, social networking and Internet space before they move into ours and eat our lunch.” 

“We need to move into that space so that there is eventually some form of a combination between telco as a utility and social media as providing the sort of content that a telco needs to deliver,” he said. “The whole industry will change.”

No sooner had MVP spoken these words than Google announced it was looking at video live-streaming and Jeff Bezos announced his purchase of the ailing Washington Post, an icon of the golden age of print journalism. –

The author is founder of a management think tank specializing in future trends; e-mail him at













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