THE ELECTIONS, TECHNOLOGY, AND YOU: A MEMO TO THE 2010 CANDIDATES

Posted on July 11, 2009

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ATTN: Candidates for 2010

SUBJECT: The elections, technology, and YOU

PRIORITY: Urgent

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Dear 2010 Candidate,

With less than a year to go before the 2010 elections, we wish to offer some reminders regarding the use of digital technology and social media to win the electorate over in May.

1. Nothing is hidden now. The Hayden Kho-Katrina Halili et. al. sex video scandal proved that nothing is ever really hidden in this age of cheap technology and free information-sharing tools. Thanks to handycams, camera-enabled mobile phones, audio-recording MP3 players, Google, and practically just about every social networking site and candidate platform, it’s now easy for anyone to share and spread anything about you in a matter of seconds.

For us, the electorate, it means a tremendous level of empowerment. One reason why ABS-CBN’s Boto Mo Ipatrol Mo is enjoying such a huge take-up is that practically anyone can be a citizen journalist. Anyone with a mobile phone and Internet access can effectively capture and report information. For you, the candidate, it means that you need to be on your guard 24/7. Old ghosts will come back to haunt you; past sins will be exposed. And since the nature of social media is practically instantaneous, no amount of media pay-offs will hide what the public will want to be revealed.

Which brings us to the second point…

2. No matter how much money you spend on media, it’s competence that will shine through. The 2007 elections gave us a glimpse of a maturing electorate and also a glimmer of hope for future elections. Last elections, only eight of the Top 12 spenders made it to the senatorial line-up. In spite of their tremendous popularity, celebrities remained stars and not politicians. The voting public—and, yes, even the masses—is beginning to see through the expensive ads, the cool jingles and dances, and the popular endorsers. They’re seeing that if you’re a great athlete or actor, then maybe that’s what you should be doing instead of messing around with our already-messed-up system.

If we look at 2010 based on this premise, and then add the fact that forums, debates, and “primaries” are getting to be standard fare nowadays, you’ll realize that people will start to see beyond your soundbites and press releases. They will watch you deliver your policy statements, answer questions, interact with other candidates, and display the best (or the worst) of yourself live and in real-time. Add to that the multiplier effect of social media and you’ve got a recipe for either dazzling success or dismal failure.

At a forum organized by the Movement for Good Governance (MGG) early this month, for instance, presidentiables were asked to deliver their policy statements on education reform. The event was covered live on Twitter, so the audience could post their reactions and questions in real-time, and anyone else in tune with Twitter could keep track of the discussions through the Web. These live, online reactions were also flashed on-screen. Moreover, audience members were each given a chip with which to cast their “gut vote” at the beginning of the forum, and a scorecard with which to rate the candidates throughout the forum. We saw a marked difference between how people “voted” before and after the discussion, which indicates how voters might be viewing this whole process leading up to 2010. If you give the public enough tools with which to make informed choices, they will start to think and vote differently. Candidates will less experience, political maturity, and savvy will fall by the wayside.

3. Just because you’re on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t mean you’re cool. You probably now have Facebook or Twitter because you know that it’s the “in thing”, technologically speaking. You’ve seen how social media have helped to elect a virtual unknown as the 44th President of the United States and how Twitter and Facebook have caused such an uproar in countries such as Iran and China. You know the potentials of social networks for your own campaign and are probably even plunking in huge amounts of money just to project techno-savviness.

But, just like any other tool, technology is not the end-all and be-all of your campaign. Even Obama analysts say that it wasn’t the technology that made Obama a winner in the hearts and minds of people, it was his MESSAGE. What are you using technology for? What are you really trying to say? What have you done in the past that speak of your capability and integrity, and—more importantly—WHY SHOULD WE BELIEVE YOU?

As a political animal, I will gravitate towards politicians whose ideals, vision, and direction resonate with my own. As a social networker, I will follow political social networkers who understand the technology enough to be able to use it properly. As someone who believes in the power of political processes and civic engagement, I will support a candidate who can use technology—just like other tools—to get me involved and not merely to talk down at me.

In this day and age of technological empowerment, I will support a candidate who will treat me as a partner and a key player in the development of my own country, and not merely as a pawn to his or her political game. (And, hopefully, more Filipinos will see things in the same way.)

4. Barack Obama was his own phenomenon. Be your own. Analysts have said that US President Barack Obama is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon that will not be replicated anywhere else in the world anytime soon. American voters loved him because he represented hope in a time when everything else looked bleak and desperate. He had a message that resonated with the people and a background that showed he was capable of executing that message well.

That said, PLEASE stop calling yourself “The Obama of the Philippines” or any derivative of that. I’d rather have a candidate who can hold his or her own in a political playing field of giants, than a candidate who always needs to brand himself relative to someone else just in order to be noticed.

5. Get real. Sincerity and honesty are key. You can buy your way through success in media or technology, but you will never be able to pay enough to replicate sincerity and honesty. People will know if you work hard, play fair, tell the truth, and stick to your principles. Likewise, they will know if what you’re doing is a publicity stunt or an advertorial. You can soundbite your way to the evening news, but if what you have in your CV are empty positions and unfulfilled commitments, then you should do the country a favor: go back to private life, set up your business and consultancy, and get rich the legal way.

The Philippines, for all of its flaws, deserves a government that works for them, delivers results, and will help restore dignity and pride back to the Filipino people. If you can’t walk the talk, then technology and social media will only expose, and expose even faster, how shallow and empty you really are.

For your immediate action and compliance.

Your Board of Directors,

The Filipino People

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