Letters to the Editor

BMPM: Using social media as a tool for democracy

- Arlene Burgos -

New Media Manager

Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula

ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs

MANILA, Philippines - The year 2009 will go down in history as the banner year of the Philippine social media. It was in 2009 when Filipinos staked their claim as heavyweights in social media, winning for the country the title “social networking capital of the world,” establishing their web of friends through Friendster, becoming fans in Facebook, and following their favorite people in Twitter.

 In a study by the Universal McCann concluded March 2009, 81.3 percent of Filipinos belonged to social networking sites. This was the highest rate among 29 countries covered by the study.

Last year, Internet penetration here grew by at least 1,100 percent. From 2 million almost a decade ago, there were 24 million Internet users in the Philippines last year, according to the site Internet World Stats. The site, which tracks and records Internet usage worldwide, said the Philippines is the sixth biggest Internet user in Asia. On top of the list are the Philippines’ better off neighbors: China, Japan and India. The implication, of course, is that the Philippines, despite its poverty, is not to be pooh-poohed when it comes to going online. On the ground, we saw the phenomenal rise of Internet shops, mushrooming in every Filipino nook and corner, wherever people, usually teenagers, converge. 

It was against this background of a booming online industry that Boto Mo iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula (BMPM) found itself in when it re-launched this year. BMPM is the election-focused citizen journalism campaign of the ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs.

First making its mark during the 2007 elections when it exposed a precinct-burning episode in Taysan, Batangas that saw the death of a teacher serving as an election officer, BMPM was launched a year exactly before the 2010 elections and carried the tagline “Ako ang Simula” or Change Begins With Me. More than serving as a catchphrase, Ako ang Simula embodied ABS’ news executives’ vision of how citizens ought to be partnering with journalists to serve the community. As News and Current Affairs Senior Vice President Maria Ressa explains whenever she talks to students aspiring to be citizen journalists through BMPM, citizens’ reportage allows the media to do its job because citizens are tapping into the media and using it as their “megaphone.” The process sparks an interesting cycle that helps push inevitable change.  

BMPM aims to help strengthen democracy by encouraging Filipinos to guard a vital institution that has always proven to be this country’s Achilles heel: polls. What BMPM wants to do is encourage citizens to take a more active role in elections by monitoring how the process works (or what fails to work in the process), and by calling attention to how this process unfolds in their communities. The hope, really, is to create a big conversation that allows citizens to immediately call attention to wrongdoing or anomaly, have the media — like ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs — amplify the issues that these events raise, and get authorities’ attention and action fast. We saw this happen in at least three major news coverages last year: the twin disaster brought by Ondoy and Pepeng, and the Maguindanao Massacre. People were calling for help, but they were also practically showing media the way because they knew this was how they would get help faster.

In the process, two things happen: citizens may be able to see their place in the way democracy is supposed to be working in this country, thereby helping stir in them a sense of citizenship; citizens, by contributing information about what they know or witness in their communities, are now able to directly contribute to the agenda-setting that used to be almost exclusively controlled by the media through their traditional gatekeeping role. The first is a function of nation-building - something which people, in varying degrees, have come to expect from their journalists. The second is possibly a direct result of the Internet boom that has allowed Filipinos to take on social networking, and use this as a tool for their needs, and in this case, a tool to participate in democracy.

In the face of an election year, we can only predict how far citizens will go in using social media to take part in how the Philippines will choose its next set of leaders. But taking after how citizens behaved in the face of last year’s crises, and how social media figured in the way citizens stepped up to the challenges of their time, we can only see a larger role for this emerging media.

Ressa likes to describe this phenomenon as the New Revolution, the New People Power. It’s something where people pushing change don’t go to Mendiola or Edsa to protest. Instead, they face the computer, and then they go online. It’s when technology allows for the big conversation, and when the social media allows for these conversations to be more than just social connections.

 Well, the year 2009 just showed us that is not something yet to happen. It has begun.

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