For three consecutive years since 2015, Philippines has been at the top spot worldwide in terms of the amount of time people spend on social media, based on the report published by advertising agency We Are Social and social media management platform company Hootsuite in 2018. Filipinos spend an average of three hours and 57 minutes on social media in any device every day, hence the label "social media capital of the world" (Pablo, 2018; Mateo, 2018).
According to the same study, the Philippines has 67 million active social media users. This figure bears more significance if contextualised – the total population as of 2018 is roughly 104 million. About 62 million access social media through their smartphones. These figures are higher than the numbers in some highly developed countries like Japan and South Korea (House of IT, 2018).
Facebook is the most widely used platform – 94 percent of Internet users use the network, 40 percent higher than the US figure (We Are Social and Hootsuite, 2018, House of IT, 2018). It is also the "most active" platform, with 26 percent of the surveyed sample reporting that they use Facebook actively (We are Social and Hootsuite, 2018). This is followed by Facebook Messenger at 23 percent, Twitter at 13 percent, and Instagram at 12 percent.
Social media is also used somewhat extensively in e-commerce as 29 percent of the Internet-using population search and purchase products through social media (We Are Social and Hootsuite, 2018). Commercial firms maintain at least one social media account as a way of promoting products or services and getting in touch with the market.
Many government agencies and public figures, as well as private enterprises, have social media accounts to disseminate information and discuss with their followers. Advocacy groups and even armed groups are managing social media accounts to communicate their cause and establish a wider audience base. The Moro International Liberation Front and the Communist Party of the Philippines, for example, are publishing some campaign materials and other related content in their Facebook accounts. This happens regardless of the fact that Philippines lags behind its neighbors in Southeast Asia when it comes to Internet speed and cost (Pablo, 2018).
Some researchers observed how social media, particularly Facebook, is used for "collective coping" among disaster-stricken communities, as in the case of Typhoon Haiyan survivors in the Philippines (Tandoc & Takahashi, 2016, p 1). Through interviews with representatives of different sectors (government, local journalists, and residents), the authors found that social media: 1) became a "platform for survivors to tell their friends and family they survived", 2) became the "means for residents to participate in the social construction of their experience", and 3) a way for survivors to "manage their feelings and memories by documenting and memorialising what they experienced" (p 1).
There is no publicly available recent data on how Filipinos use social media networks as their source of news and how they are able distinguish between factual and false information. However, there is a research report on how social media has become "weaponised" in this setting (Ong and Cabañes, 2016, p 1), as groups and individuals were found to be implementing massive disinformation and discourse-hijacking campaigns for political agenda (p 5). In this study, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews and online observation with operators of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts and the strategists who manage them. The researchers found that click farms, fake news, and troll armies were used systematically by players across the political spectrum to sow disinformation in social media. In another report, the political party of the incumbent president Rodrigo Duterte, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino Lakas ng Bayan or PDP Laban, was found to be hiring fake account operators especially during the campaign period (Bradshaw and Howard, 2017, p 17).
The researchers noted that "disinformation production is a professionalised enterprise: hierarchical in its organisation, strategic in its outlook and expertise, and exploitative in its morality and ethics" (Ong and Cabanes, 2018). They added that there is a system "has not only normalised political deception, but made it financially rewarding – especially for people at the top."
This systematic campaign to sow disinformation and delegitimize non-state sources of information – "cyber-attack (and) online harassment/trolling" – is perceived by Filipino journalists as the "second worst threat" in the current practice, according to a 2018 survey done by the International Federation of Journalists and Southeast Asia Journalists Unions (International Federation of Journalists, 2019).
The social media scene in the Philippines has also become space for gender-based violence (offensive language, online harassment, among others). In fact, "cybercrimes against women" is among the top three complaints received by the Anti-Cybercrime Group of the Philippine National Police (Occeñola, 2018).