Comelec to monitor social media spending

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With barely a week before the official campaign season for this year’s midterm polls starts, candidates with limited budgets have turned to social media to generate publicity mileage, aware that it has become the “great equalizer” against traditional platforms.

Although most candidates can post materials online for free or with minimal advertising fees compared to TV or radio, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had earlier passed a resolution requiring candidates to include their campaign expenses for online postings and blog activities

The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) however believes social media should not be the sole source of voter information.

According to Namfrel secretary general Eric Alvia, social media narrows the advantage of rich candidates running for public office but warned that voters should not depend on social media alone when choosing candidates as “not everything on social media is beneficial to voter’s education,”

“Before, if you are a national candidate, you really have to do the ground work, do the rounds, campaign sorties. Social media narrows the advantage of [rich] candidates running for public office,” said Alvia in a televised interview Friday.

“Voters should diversify their election source and not just rely on a particular social media website because we know algorithm is a tool or an instrument that just gives you one side of the story,” he added.

The media and election watchdogs should continue mounting efforts to fact check candidates’ claims and fight disinformation on online networks, Alvia said.
“We also have to step up,” he added.

In a separate interview, Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) executive director Rona Caritos said that the Comelec’s effort to monitor candidates’ social media spending should also be developed to include the monitoring of content.

“Comelec is really trailblazing in this effort because almost all countries in the world are at a loss on how to regulate social media,” Caritos said. “It’s a first step but we should not stop there. What we want to see also right now is some content analysis.”

To recall, social media and online advertisements for the 2019 midterm elections will be subject to Comelec scrutiny according to its resolution, marking the first time “blogs” and “social media posts” would be covered by campaign regulations.

In a resolution dated 30 January, the poll body ordered all political parties and candidates to “register with the Education and Information Department of the Comelec the website name and web address of the official blog and/or social media page” that would be used to disseminate their online campaign materials.

Other blogs and social media pages not affiliated with a candidate or a political party but “has for its primary purpose the endorsement of a candidate” shall be considered as “additional official blogs or social media pages of a candidate,” the resolution read.

The resolution was not explicit about content monitoring or regulation.

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