When we talk about digital media in the Philippines, we refer largely to Internet communication platforms. As of 2018, 67 million out of 104 million Filipinos (63 percent) use the Internet – a staggering 3,350 percent increase from year 2000s’ figures, based on the data from Internet World Stats (2018), which combined the figures published by Facebook, International Telecommunications Union, and other sources. With these figures, the Philippines is ranked 12th worldwide in terms of number of Internet users, this despite having the slowest average Internet speed in Asia-Pacific as of 2017 (Akamai Technologies, 2017). Filipinos are also at the top spot worldwide when it comes to the amount of time spent on Internet: An average 10 hours and two minutes every day (We Are Social and Hootsuite, 2019, cited by Lamb, 2019).
Despite the convergence of technologies and the Internet coming of age especially in the urban Philippines, Internet penetration, literacy, and speed remain hindered by poor infrastructure particularly in the countryside (Pablo, 2018).
The younger population uses the Internet most often. The highest amount of Internet usage was observed among Filipinos in the 18 to 24 age bracket (81 percent), followed by the 25 to 34 bracket (65 percent), based on a 2018 survey by the Social Weather Stations (Flores, 2018).
Filipinos use the Internet primarily for social media (47 percent of the sample population in the survey conducted by On Device Research in 2014), followed by online shopping (29 percent). Other "priorities" in using the Internet include watching videos online (19 percent), playing online and mobile games (15 percent), and location search (13 percent). Philippines is also "the fastest growing app market" in Southeast Asia, as more and more Filipinos are availing of services (e-commerce, for instance) through their smartphones (Garcia, 2016).
The Philippine youth expect that the networked technologies that will have the greatest impact in their lives in the future include the "Internet of Things (IoT), virtual/mixed/augmented reality (VR/MR/AR), and next-generation computing experiences" (Microsoft Philippines, 2017). This is based on a survey with a sample of the younger population in Asia-Pacific. The IoT, ranked as the top technology projected to have the biggest impact on people’s lives, now exist in the form of "confluence of power devices, cloud and data" (Microsoft Philippines, 2017). However, six out of 10 Filipino respondents in the sample felt that the country is "not ready to adapt to digital disruptions."
Print and broadcast media have long invested in online presence to expand reach given the pervasiveness of the Internet in the Philippines. Newspapers like The Philippine Daily Inquirer and broadcast networks like GMA put up their respective news websites, which either reprint stories or videos published in print or shown in television programmes (or appropriate content into the online format) or publish entirely new stories in real time. One firm, Rappler.com, is a purely online news outlet.
Like traditional media, news websites make revenues largely from advertisements, and advertising revenue is a function of reach and audience engagement. Hence, news firms re-post content in social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), which as the above-mentioned data suggests, is where many Filipinos discuss or communicate with their networks.
The Internet coming of age also provided cause-oriented groups and individuals with a cheaper if not entirely free platform in which they can disseminate information to an increasing number of netizens. Even armed groups are using social media networks and websites to reach more audiences, as in the case of the websites of the Communist Party of the Philippines and of the Moro International Liberation Front and on their Facebook, Youtube and Twitter accounts.
Alternative or non-mainstream media found the Internet as a cheap platform for their content, which compensates for their meagre resources when compared with those of mainstream media. Pinoy Weekly and Bulalat.com, for example, publish most of their stories online, and these stories were mostly guided by news values different from those that guide mainstream news. However, alternative media outlets, which have a long history of reporting on government transgressions, recently reported cyber attacks, especially in January 2019. Bulatlat.com, for example, was inaccessible for a period of time because of a "Distributed Denial of Service" or DDoS attack, with the "attackers using 1,100 compromised computers to flood the website with requests" (Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, 2019).
More and more Filipinos, like in other parts of the world, access the Internet through smartphones. The number of smartphone users in the Philippines are expected to more than double from about 40 million in 2016 to 90 million by 2021, according to the 2016 Ericsson Mobility Report (Jiao, 2016). To put these figures into perspective, one has to consider that the Philippine population is expected to reach about 109 million by the end of 2019 (Philippine Commission on Population, 2018, cited by Cepeda, 2018).
About 87 percent of Filipino adults use mobile phones, according to a 2018 report by advertising agency We Are Social and social media management platform company Hootsuite. In terms of mobile activity, the most common is using a mobile messenger (33 percent), followed by watching videos (26 percent) and playing games (23 percent).
The mobile Internet penetration rate was said to be increasing by 30 million users every year (Garcia, 2016), despite the dismally poor mobile Internet speeds. In the "State of the LTE report" published by mobile network research firm OpenSignal, the speed and availability of the long-term evolution or LTE mobile connection in the country fared so poorly that it ranked 74th out of 77 countries (Marcelo, 2018).