On Tuesday, October 16th Human Rights Matter attended a lecture at Humboldt University. The lecture was sponsored by the Philippine Studies Series Berlin and the Department for Southeast Asian Studies at Humboldt.

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“Facebook, Politics, and Participation in the Philippines: Consequences for Democracy,” was presented by Aries Araguay (Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of the Philippines in Diliman). This collaborative project between Araguay, Aim Sinpeng (University of Sydney) and Dimitar Gueorguiev (Syracuse University) examines the strong relationship between social media and the rise of populist figures, such as Rodrigo Duterte, winner of the 2016 Filipino Presidential Election. The study analyzes the Facebook activity of all five candidates in the 2016 election, as well as the comments and shares on their pages and posts.

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Aries Araguay

Araguay presented his study’s finding that the Facebook use of Duterte and his supporters stood out among that of the four other Presidential candidates. In contrast to his opponents, Duterte rarely posted on Facebook, yet his few posts saw the highest number of shares amongst the five candidates. He also received 70% of all Facebook interactions in the Philippines during the election. Through this data and more, the study shows that Facebook was not the cause of, but played a key role in Duterte’s win.

We at Human Rights Matter found this lecture intriguing and important, as the results of the 2016 election have had particular consequences for Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines. Duterte may be most infamous abroad for his administration’s extrajudicial killings of drug users and dealers, but his administration has also targeted HRDs. Since Duterte’s election, HRDs in the Philippines have faced an increased amount of violence. Politicians and companies alike have used various methods to silence any and all opposition. There have been many cases in which such powerful figures have abused the criminal justice system and unfairly jailed HRDs, like that of Senator de Lima or the more recent arrest and abuse of four female peasant activists.

Facebook, and social media in general, can be a fantastic tool for change. Yet, with the spread of fake news and rising presence of bots and trolls, it can also be a tool for deception. One thing is for certain: Araguay’s lecture showed just how critical it is to consider the impact of social media on elections these days. As we consider this impact, we mustn’t forget human rights and Human Rights Defenders, both of which are endangered by the spread of false information and the Duterte administration.

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