Internet and mobile communications


In recent years, the Internet and mobile communications were used as means of coordinating collective action and political activism. These technologies kept up with the lack of formal and physical organization while reducing the costs and communication time (Reyes, 2008). They effectively aided in unifying individuals who share common identities and interests, despite the differences in geographic location (Reyes, 2008).

The manifestation of these networked publics is most visible with the current wave of online communities - social networking sites (SNSs). These sites are not simply spaces for information dissemination; they are networked publics where people gather to do the things that they would normally do in public places (Donath & boyd, 2004). In doing so, they help construct a new public sphere (Reyes, 2008).

A. Internet and Politics

Some of the key concepts in much of political communication research include social capital and political participation. Putnam (1995) argued that an important component of any thriving society is social capital, which is generated by people participating in public or community life. Social capital consists of both social trust and civic engagement (Putnam, 1995). Indicators of social capital would include things such as volunteerism, group membership, etc. In many ways, political participation is closely related to social capital.

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La Due Lake and Huckfeldt (1998) argued that “social capital is realized through networks of political communication, thereby enhancing the likelihood that individuals will become politically engaged”. In this view, politically relevant social capital should enhance the likelihood of individual engagement in politics, enabling citizens to become engaged in ways they might otherwise not (La Due Lake & Huckfeldt, 1998). Essentially, social capital, by its very nature, should have a positive relationship with political participation, and existing research supports this view (La Due Lake & Huckfeldt, 1998). One could also argue that indicators of social capital such as being involved with parents, school, and religious activities (e.g., Smith, 1999) can be interpreted as being interpersonally connected with others. If one is connected to others in this way, a natural outflow or part of this connection would most likely include political discussion.

The research of La Due Lake and Huckfeldt (1998) pointed out that political discussion that occurs within social networks increases social capital, which in turn increases political participation.

The Internet helps build social capital (Wright, 2008). People's networks comprise of traditional “bases of community” - relatives, friends, workmates, and even neighbors. As the modern trend of mobility permeated society, the community was said to be transforming: social networks of geographically dispersed members developed (Wright, 2008). This broadens the people's communication circles while increasing their opportunities for self-expression (Wright, 2008). Minorities, who had difficulty in the twentieth century to express themselves socially, typify this. This societal trend only enhanced the already great need and desire of people for connection.

The emergence of the Internet, not unlike other technologies before it, created a popular venue for discussion of political and social issues (Holt, 2004). Many scholars have explored the role of computer-mediated communication in political communication (Holt, 2004). In recent years, new web technologies, popularly referred to as social media, have opened up possibilities for rich, online human-to-human interaction unprecedented in the history of Internet Communication. Of these new web technologies, SNSs in particular have created unique arenas for online discourse.

B. Definition and History of Social Networking Sites

SNS are “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (boyd & Ellison, 2007).

SNS are a means for self-presentation and for building and maintaining contact with friends and acquaintances (boyd, 2006; Donath & boyd, 2004; Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007). The users have profiles, which usually include their picture and information about their age, hobbies, favorite music and books, and so on. Often, these SNSs have weblog, photo- and video sharing features. Users can leave short messages on the profiles of other members that can be viewed by other users.

According to boyd and Ellison (2007), the first identifiable SNS was introduced in 1997. let users build profiles, list their Friends and, starting in 1998, browse the Friends lists (boyd & Ellison, 2007). These features had been offered in other forms before SixDegrees. Profiles were present in most popular dating sites and numerous community sites. AIM and ICQ buddy lists provided lists of Friends while permitted people to affiliate with their high school or college (boyd & Ellison, 2007). SixDegrees pioneered in combining these features and advertised itself as an instrument in helping people connect and send messages to others. (boyd & Ellison, 2007).

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SixDegrees attracted millions of users but fell short in becoming a sustainable business and in 2000, the service closed (boyd & Ellison, 2007). Its users said there was not much to do after accepting Friend requests.

Various community tools supporting different kinds and mixtures of profiles and publicly expressed Friends sprouted from 1997 to 2001. AsianAvenue, BlackPlanet, and MiGente offered users personal, professional and dating profiles (O. Wasow, personal communication, August 16, 2007 as cited in boyd & Ellison, 2007). Similarly, LiveJournal, which was launched in 1999, showed one-directional connections on user pages. In 2000, the Swedish web community LunarStorm then rebuilt itself as an SNS; it provided Friends lists, guestbooks and journals (D. Skog, personal communication, September 24, 2007 as cited in boyd & Ellison, 2007).

In 2001, the next wave of SNS came as took off in helping people “leverage their business networks” (A. Scott, personal communication, June 14, 2007 as cited in boyd & Ellison, 2007). Ryze,, LinkedIn and Friendster, whose creators were interlinked personally and professionally, believed they could exist without competing (boyd & Ellison, 2007). Hence, Ryze never drew in mass popularity, developed for “a passionate niche user base”, LinkedIn established itself as a powerful business service, and Friendster is now known as the most significant and “one of the biggest disappointments in Internet history” (Chafkin, 2007, p. 1 as cited in boyd & Ellison, 2007).

Friendster was built and designed primarily to help friends-of-friends meet, with the belief that friends-of-friends would be better romantic partners than strangers would (J. Abrams, personal communication, March 27, 2003, as cited in boyd & Ellison, 2007).

Since 2003, more new SNSs were launched that social software analyst Clay Shirky (2003) coined the term YASNS: “Yet Another Social Networking Service”. The majority were profile-centric sites like Friendster, or target specific demographics. Socially organized SNSs seek broad audiences while career-oriented sites such as LinkedIn, Xing and Visible Path focus on business professionals. “Passion-centric” SNSs like Dogster, Couchsurfing and MyChurch help people sharing a common interest connect and interact (T. Rheingold, personal communication, August 2, 2007 as cited in boyd & Ellison, 2007). As the social media phenomena grew, websites chiefly for media sharing started adopting SNS features and becoming SNSs themselves (boyd & Ellison, 2007). Examples of these are Flickr (for photo sharing), Last.FM (for music-listening habits), and YouTube (for video sharing).

SNSs proliferated worldwide. Friendster gained its traction in the Pacific Islands (Madhavan, 2007 as cited in boyd & Ellison, 2007).

Blogging services with SNS features also became fashionable. In the U.S., Xanga, LiveJournal, and Vox - all with SNS features - attracted broad audiences (boyd & Ellison, 2007).

In contrast to older SNSs, Facebook was created for a college network. It was launched in early 2004 exclusively for Harvard (Cassidy, 2006 as cited in boyd & Ellison, 2007). To register, a user must have a email address. However, in September 2005, Facebook opened itself to high school students, professionals, and, eventually, everyone (boyd & Ellison, 2007). A distinct feature of Facebook is its ability for outside developers to create “Applications” for users to customize their profiles and perform other tasks, such as playing games, comparing quiz results and chart travel histories.

Some SNSs seek narrower audiences, instead of growing exponentially. For example, aSmallWorld and BeautifulPeople limit access “to appear selective and elite” (boyd & Ellison, 2007). Even more, now, anyone who wants to build a niche SNS can do so on Ning, the SNS of SNSs (boyd & Ellison, 2007).

At present, there are no consistent data on how many people use SNSs, however, marketing research reveals that the SNS phenomenon is expanding its reach worldwide - encouraging many corporations to invest time and money in “creating, purchasing, promoting and advertising SNSs” (boyd & Ellison, 2007).

The evolution of SNSs illustrates the trend and organizational shift of online communities. While websites devoted to interest-sharing communities still exist and thrive, SNSs are mainly structured around people, not interests. They are structured as personal (or “egocentric”) networks and the individual is at the center of his/her community (boyd & Ellison, 2007). This more truthfully reflects “unmediated social structures, where the world is composed of networks, not groups” (Wellman, 1988, p. 37 cited in boyd & Ellison, 2007). The sultry of SNS features has instituted a new organizational structure for online communities, hence, an exciting and dynamic research context.

C. Profiles of SNSs

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Even as SNSs have employed a number of technical features, their essentials comprise of profiles displaying a publicly expressed list of “Friends” or contacts who are also users of the system. Profiles are “unique pages where one can type oneself into being” (Sunden, 2003, p. 3). In general, profiles show the user's name, age, sex, location, interests, profile picture and an “About Me” section. Some sites enable users in putting multimedia content and altering their profiles' look and feel.

A profile's visibility differs by site and depending on user discretion. SNS users may choose if they want their profiles to be made public or for “Friends only”. Facebook employs a different approach. By default, Facebook users sharing a common “network” can view each other's profile.

After signing up for an SNS, users are made to identify people in the system with whom they have a relationship. These relationships may be called “Friends”, “Contacts”, and “Fans” - depending on the site. While most sites require two-way confirmation for Friendship, some do not. These one-way ties are usually referred to as “Fans” or “Followers” (Donath & boyd, 2004).

According to boyd and Ellison (2007), the public display of connections is a vital aspect of SNSs. The Friends list show links to each Friend's profile, allowing a viewer to see the person's network simply by browsing through his/her Friends list.

Most SNSs also allow users to send messages to their Friends. This feature involves leaving “comments” or “testimonials” on the profile, and private messaging, which functions like a webmail (Donath & boyd, 2004).

Another significant variation of SNSs is their features and user base. SNSs may or may not have photo or video sharing abilities, built-in ordinary and micro- blogging, and instant messaging technology (Donath & boyd, 2004). Most SNSs target people from certain geographical regions or linguistic groups. Some are designed with definite sexual orientation, ethnic, religious, political, or other identity-driven categories in mind (Donath & boyd, 2004).

D. SNSs and Politics

While checking out each other's activities or preferences online is a form of social networking, getting involved in politics has grown prominent (Kanter, 2008). Hence, when the networks go online, so do political entities. Supporting a political candidate or cause is a crucial way for people to connect and interact with society and their surroundings (Kanter, 2008). SNSs make the process easier.

A survey conducted in 2008 by Getting Political 5: The Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 10% of all Americans who use SNSs use them “for some kind of political activity” (Smith & Raine, 2008 as cited in Martin & Schmeisser, 2008). The report states that, of adults under 30 who have a social network profile, half use SNSs to get or share information about the candidates and the campaign. It demonstrates the growing political use of SNSs in the U.S., especially in the lives of young adults. There, SNSs are clearly becoming important in the political lives of their members.

Online groups were born soon after political campaigns penetrated the Internet. They may carry titles like “For Obama and Change”, which although digital and virtual, provide a venue for meaningful and substantive discussion among like-minded members (Martin & Schmeisser, 2008). Sometimes, they even become facilitators of heated debates between complete strangers (Martin & Schmeisser, 2008).

These social technologies like blogs and emails received “mainstream media attention” in the 2004 and 2006 elections in the U.S. (Kanter (2008).

Through the utilization of a network of “Friends” and the usage of “virtual word of mouth” strategies, SNSs have showcased the opportunity to deviate from the impersonal and “unfriendly” thrust of most media. The virtual world in general is being “invaded” by real-world, political issues and communication (Kanter, 2008).

Political candidates, who also use these technologies, have the opportunity to take advantage of the vastly intricate communication networks that each person possesses with his/her friends, personally and virtually addressing their friends and other people within their social circles, making them potential voters (Martin & Schmeisser, 2009).

Candidates have a new venue for making themselves visible and their parties' platforms, policies and programs available for scrutiny, as well as make users aware of the rules in voter registration and the location of various nearby precincts (Kanter, 2008). This results in a bundle of possibilities for candidates to interact among themselves and for the potential voters who otherwise cannot be reached for this purpose (Kanter, 2008). What makes these media more effective is that people from ages 18 to 29 have a higher chance of obtaining information of political nature from the Internet, according to survey data in the 2004 US elections (as cited in Martin & Schmeisser, 2008).

Gerber and Green's (2000) study concluded that when someone gives another person political information, that person is more likely to cast a vote. The authors recommended that candidates use SNSs instead of developing their own websites if they want a cheap and effective means for establishing substantial relationships with potential voters (Gerber & Green, 2000). Furthermore, due to the immense amount of profiling that these social networks enable, targeting an audience of specific preferences is much easier, as terms like “Liberal” or “Democrat” are searchable (Gerber & Green, 2000).

However, Gerber and Green's study also revealed that only a minority of the respondents contacted the candidates themselves in the online networks, despite the majority's high involvement in politics. The authors made inferences for the reasons behind this, and stated that although the youth of ‘' are highly involved in the virtual political arena, they spend more time building relationships among themselves, among people who have the same interests as they do, rather than with the candidates they are said to be supporting. In effect, voter turnout from the youth still seems to be unaffected by the growing trend of involvement in SNSs.

According to Kanter (2008), political relationships that have more chances of lasting longer than usual are those founded in good communication and good constituent services. Both of which can also be attained or at least explored in the field of SNSs; however, the virtual support and communications cannot replace the value that physical and human connections can in politics (Kanter, 2008; Karan & Tandoc, 2008).

E. Internet and SNSs in the Philippines

Friendster that launched in 2002 is one of the first SNSs in the World Wide Web. After a couple of years, its popularity in the United States plunged rapidly owing to “massive technical problems and server delays” (boyd & Ellison, 2007). As the American audience dwindled, Friendster gradually gained users from Southeast Asia starting in the Philippines (, 2007). Carmen Leilani de Jesus, a Filipino-American marketing consultant and hypnotist, was the first Friendster user to introduce the SNS to the Philippines, where a number of her friends reside (, 2007).

Since then, the Philippines saw a major increase in the presence and use of SNSs. Universal McCann's 2008 research on social media, “Power To The People - Wave3” indicates that 83.1% of Filipinos participate in SNSs, making it “the social networking capital of the world”. Today, Filipinos are considered as the top photo uploaders and web video viewers, and second in the number of video uploaders and blog readers (Lai, 2008; Universal McCann, 2008).

By 2008, 7.9 million Filipinos utilize the Internet; 6.9 million of them visit an SNS at least once a month (Yazon, 2008). Several times, Friendster became the most visited website in the Philippines, according to web tracking site Alexa (Ling, 2008).

Among Filipino Multiply users, seventy percent are below the age of 25; 60 percent are female. In contrast, Filipino Friendster users are between the ages 16 to 30, with 55 percent of them female (Salazar, 2008).

The social networking trend in the Philippines can be traced from the Filipinos' culture of “friends helping friends” (, 2007). For Filipinos, “their friends and who they know can become more valuable than money, especially when what they need can be achieved through nepotism, favoritism, and friendship among others” (, 2007).

The social networking's immense power was tested in the country's 2007 national elections when then senatorial candidates Francis Escudero and Antonio Trillanes III constructed their own Friendster profiles to seek support from net-users (Legaspi, 2007). They eventually won seats in the Senate (, 2007). Since then, several local public figures have built and maintained their own Friendster profiles to communicate with their (prospective) followers and constituents (Marinay, 2008).

F. The Obama Phenomenon

The big role that SNSs can play in politics became evident in the 2008 United States national polls, where then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama made history by becoming America's first African-American president. Obama was able to use social media extensively for his campaigns, first for the Democratic Party nomination against then New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and later in the general election against Republican nominee Sen. John McCain. Specifically, he put-up an account in 15 online communities such as Facebook, MySpace and Eons (an SNS for senior citizens). According to a slideshow titled "Barack Obama's Internet Strategy" (2005), the Obama campaign had around 5 million online supporters, 3.2 million in Facebook alone. Most of his supporters in Facebook were members of the group "Barack Obama for President in 2008" and "One Million Strong for Barack." Facebook has been described as "a staple of college life...and a key tool for a new generation of politically-engaged students" (Seipel, 2008).

Obama's team also had an SNS-like section,, in his campaign website. Through the said online community, it was estimated that "2 million profiles were created, 200,000 events were planned, 400,000 blog posts were created and more than 35,000 volunteer groups were created" (ReadWriteWeb, 2008). Looking at the election results for 2008, it is obvious that Obama's "get-out-the-youth-vote" effort worked. A BBC news item reported that Obama won the votes of those between 18-30 by a margin of 66 per cent -31 per cent over McCain, a margin "much higher than in any previous election" (Scheiferres, 2008) Obama also won resoundingly over first-time voters, 68 per cent-30 per cent. The young voters' record turn-out, it is said, may have been the key to Obama's win (Dahl, 2008).

Aside from using SNSs and his campaign site to reach out to voters, Obama's campaign was also able to tap those for fundraising (Sullivan, 2008). Hailed by American pundit Andrew Sullivan as "the least elitist and most democratic fundraising in the history of U.S politics", Obama was able to raise as much as $55 million (for February 2008) and $31 million (for April 2008) through online social networking. Most of Obama's 1.5 million individual donors contributed $200 or less to his bid. Americans are allowed to give as high as $2,300 to certain candidates, thereby assuring that Obama still "has a long list of names to ask for more money" (Sullivan, 2008). Because of SNSs like Facebook, it has become a lot easier for campaign operatives to gather grassroots support (mostly from the youth) and mobilize them for election activities.

G. Traditional Campaigning in the Philippines

Existing communication technologies has also shaped the way Philippine political campaigns were conducted. Running against then president Elpidio Quirino, Ramon Magsaysay in 1953 used the radio jingle "Mambo Magsaysay." At that time, the radio served as the public'smain information source while the television, introdued by Quirino's brother Antonio to the country in the same year, was in its infancy (Enriquez, 2006). Magsaysay also "travelled by plane, train, car, horse and even carabao to have close contacts with the common taos" (Tigno, 2005). In the 1960s and 1970s, most candidates spend their time and resources on campaign rallies since only wealthy households can afford television sets (Gloria, 2004). In her book Spin and Sell, journalist Glenda Gloria wrote that a typical Filipino election campaign at that time always has big rallies, motorcades and poblacion stops in its itinerary while political ads are restricted to leaflets, posters and komiks.

Election jingles were were used in rallies and played on the radio while candidates who want to reach out to voters has to do it in a "personal" manner (e.g. house-to-house campaigns) because "nothing could beat the personal appearance of a candidate" (Gloria, 2004). Ferdinand Marcos, on the other hand, was able to use the television to promote himself for his 1965 and 1969 presidential bids because the family of Fernando Lopez, his running-mate, owns a media giant. For the 1986 snap eelctions, volunteers and supporters of then candidate Corazon Aquino recorded her election speeches and campaign jingles to cassette tapes for distributrion to voters in the countryside (Gloria, 2004). In the succeeding years, the Commission on Elections implemented a ban on political advertising, with the aim of leveling the playing field in favor of less-moneyed candidates.

The Supreme Court overturned the ban in 2001. In the 2004 presidential elections, candidates had devoted a huge chunk of their resources to television advertising due to its wide reach (Hofilena-Florentino, 2004). President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for one, used 66 per cent of her entire campaign expenses (or about P101 million) to ad placements (Gloria, 2004). Candidates Manuel Roxas II and Prospero Pichay also spent heavily on their senate bids, though with mixed results. Polling firm Pulse Asia head Ana Maria Tabunda said that though political ads can establish a hopeful's name recall, it also has to "convince the voters on the merits of a candidate" to make it more effective (Tabunda, 2008).

H. The Research Gap

Much of the existing literature on Internet and politics focuses on how the former catalyzes the public's political participation by increasing the social capital and also by looking the their views and behavior. However, there are still no parallel researches on these in the local setting. Also, a definitive study on how and why presidential candidates use SNSs as a campaign tool is yet to be conducted. The onset of the 2010 general elections provides a good opportunity for this kind of research. . This study aims to offer new perspectives in political communication by giving an insider's look in SNS political campaigning, and to help in understanding the potentials of the Internet by looking at the candidates' tools, representations and motivations.

The country's last presidential elections was held in 2004, a year where Facebook and video-sharing site YouTube hasn't been put-up. Though articles written about Obama's use of the social media for his White House bid probed into the people behind his online campaign as well as how his team used SNSs for electioneering, not much has been said about the costs incurred for the entire effort (in relation to traditional campaign methods). Parenthetically, this study would look at how campaigning thorugh SNSs can possibly cut-down election spending.