April 8, 2021
Writer: K Ballesteros
Researchers: Angelica Jane Evangelista, Azie Marie Libanan, Alvin Joseph Mapoy
Creatives: Bee Fukumoto, Tobey Fhar Isaac Calayo, Krystle Mae Labio
Moderators: RS Mojica, Azie Marie Libanan
I log onto Twitter every morning to understand what’s happening to Filipino healthcare workers (HCW). Reports from public accounts by HCWs describe how they listen to patients say goodbye on video call before they are intubated, or watch older doctors succumb to COVID-19 infections, or scrambling as patients on the brink of death wait outside an Emergency ward already packed full. Several threads from different parts of the National Capital Region (NCR) follow families looking for support as they travel to hospitals as far as Bulacan, Pampanga, and Rizal for vacant ICU beds. While these posts are not often tagged, their reach is incredible: people offer condolences, and strangers gather and offer information about hospitals in different areas, phone numbers for possible physicians on call, among others.
These painful narratives record and illustrate evidence against official reports declaring otherwise. To keep abreast of the situation on the ground is part of the advocacy work many, private citizens practice on social media. Advocacies are a form of civic engagement whose goal is to lead to direct action or civic activism (Bowen, Gordon, & Chonjacki, 2017), and to shift power by amplifying people’s concerns to address and redress social problems (Latifat, Ibidunni, & Akoja, 2019). Other social and ad hoc hashtags of note include #ReliefPH and #RescuePH, which collect real-time information about relief operations and those who need rescue after natural disasters like typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. Within the Philippine context, technologies that are dispersed, decentralized, and interactive are useful for “aggregating knowledge, rapidly disseminating information, and mobilizing people” (Bowen et al., 2107).
Advocacies on Social Media
Studies about advocacies on social media describe the platforms as tools to disseminate knowledge and information (Kassens-Noor, 2012, p. 12 as quoted in Bowen et al., 2017) to a wide audience across many societal intersections over a short period of time (Latha, Meena, Pravitha, Dasgupata, & Chaturvedi, 2020). Campaigns run by advocates are also instrumental in revealing the public’s perception of mental health, and in providing access to information (Latha et al., 2020). More specifically, social media-based campaigns connect individuals who are geographically separate, to create a shared experience. Advocacy-driven campaigns also allow “participants to express parts of themselves to others” (Freeman, Potente, Rock, & McIver, 2015) which fosters intimacy and a sense of belonging to a community.
Finding and sustaining a community are part of the work of advocacies. This is where a clear and achievable call to action (Freeman et al., 2015), and a sense of direction become the central themes around which a campaign can begin and thrive, and where a community can be built.
Advocates in the Philippines and other “low-resource settings” (Latha et al., 2020) are even more motivated to sustain campaigns where social media-based advocacies may help provide “better social engagement and support” (Latha et al., 2020). Advocacy is engaged in the politics of care: providing care, practicing it, refining our understanding of care. In fact, “authentic advocacy…involves mobilizing supporters and championing responses within the political, economic, or social system” (Bowen et al., 2017), and this work begins with efficient knowledge transfer.
Advocacies also amplify the reach of resources and verified information for access on different kinds of media (Moorhead, Hazlett, Harrison, Carroll, Irwin, & Hoving, 2013). As conversations take place in a public space, advocates monitor, record, and track responses and disease outbreaks and misinformation. All of this can be helpful in determining intervention efforts (Moorhead et al., 2013), forecasting trends, and conducting outreach (Saha, Torus, Ernala, Rizuto, Stafford, De Choudhury, 2019).
Amplification, Advocacies, & Disinformation
Working within an information dense ecosystem presents a unique set of challenges for advocates. In the Philippines, the internet penetration rate is only at 67 percent by January of this year despite an increase of 4.2 million internet users between 2020 and 2021 (Kemp, 2021). The same people are likely to have access to the internet on more devices, instead of more Filipino individuals accessing the internet. But access is only one facet of the bigger problem; once online, users must contend with disinformation.
‘Disinformation’ includes “all forms of false, inaccurate, or misleading information designed, presented and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit” (EU Commission 2018, as quoted in Sinpeng & Tapsell, 2021). On the other hand, ‘misinformation’ occurs when false information is shared without any harmful intent (Democracy & Disinformation, n.d.). ‘Malinformation‘ however, is when an information that is based on reality but used to inflict harm on a person, social group, or organization (UNESCO, 2019 citation to follow). Unfortunately, social media is especially vulnerable to all three because these platforms remain heavily underregulated. Because social media invite content creation, the volume of information is difficult to verify (Moorhead et al., 2020), and it is impossible to correct all inaccuracies. These platforms are also largely unregulated, which means that any information presented on the platform is of varying quality and consistency.
The Verge’s guide to slowing down and thinking about information (Robertson, 2019) describes unreliable content as eliciting a strong emotional response which can lead to readers sharing or amplifying it; either confirming or refuting one’s beliefs; or asking for money. According to The Verge writer Adi Robertson, “being strongly moved by a story should make you want to know more, not less. If the news is accurate, you’ll end up learning important nuances about an issue you care about. And if it’s false or misleading, you can warn other people away from falling for it” (2019).
When dealing with disinformation, the material reality of the Philippines is an important motivating factor. Despite initiatives that provide access to social media platforms, access is limited by internet speed and access given to news sites. According to From Grassroots Activism to Disinformation: Social Media Trends in Southeast Asia, “internet access is more likely to be for the use of platforms that require slower internet speeds for effective usage, such as Facebook” (Sinpeng & Tapsell, 2021). Another massive limitation is the ‘digital divide’ among those whose access to the internet and information is limited to smartphones: “majority of Southeast Asians access the internet only by mobile phones (estimated at 70 percent of internet users in the region)” (Sinpeng & Tapsell, 2021).
Within these parameters, advocates working to create space for meaningful interaction are also engaged in the long struggle to combat disinformation and to find ways to communicate verified information in a way that Filipinos can access fully.
Being an Advocate on Social Media
Working with information on a digital platform is an engagement with people’s personal experiences. One part of advocacy is to build a community, through which advocacies can offer support, continue to make safe spaces, and raise awareness. The following are meaningful practices for advocates and participants of social media-based advocacies:
Fact-check. Social media-based communities that offer support can “guide information seekers to useful content and local resources” (Latha et al., 2020). Verifiable and updated sources like Poynter’s Fighting the Infodemic and Media and Information Literacy library are some resources. However: Filipinos may experience “limited access…to broader domains of the internet that do not adhere to…mobile phone formats” (Sinpeng & Tapsell, 2021). Advocates must also consider how to make this information more accessible across different formats through creating transformative content.
Small is sustainable. Recent studies (Saha et al., 2019) have found that social media campaigns are effective in changing user behavior through advocating for small, concrete actions. A good small step is to advocate for critical thinking processes by reading slowly. According to Robertson, “online disinformation…might omit important details…or use legitimate news to attract people before feeding them bad information. The key here is looking for gaps in a story, or mismatches between a story’s claims and its actual source material” (2019). This means reading an article completely, and thinking about its claims before amplifying it further.
Know your community. Content and information must be tailored to reach the community, and communicate effectively. First, understanding the kind of mental health or health-related content is vital to reaching the community (Saha et al., 2019).
Advocate for inclusivity. The Philippines is a multicultural, polylinguistic country. Advocacies are radical if they are socially-inclusive across classes, and focus on intersectional approaches.
One step forward is to make campaigns language-inclusive, and to focus on content that is accessible to millions of Filipinos more than the community already established. While social media is radical because it helps reduce socioeconomic inequalities by “lowering information asymmetries and costs of political engagement” (Sinpeng & Tapsell, 2021) and making health information accessible to vulnerable communities, this is only possible if advocates make access a priority to reach these communities.
My Twitter and Instagram timelines are also populated by posts about daily survival: making coffee, updates about meals, pets, and their antics. Advocates and the campaigns for and about mental health in the Philippines are part of survival, especially for those of us who cannot look away. The amplification of mental health issues, best practices, and community visibility are particularly important for those living with mental health issues, which are not often discussed in public spaces outside social media. The effect on the isolation that so often comes on the heels of depressive episodes, peaks of anxiety, or episodes of panic, cannot be overstated. To know that there are people for whom your own experiences resonate, is a form of connection so desperately necessary, especially in the middle of a global health crisis.
As we celebrate #UsapTayo’s 4th Anniversary, join us on our tweetchat with HealthxPH this Saturday, April 10. Continue your advocacies, champions! Tara, #UsapTayo!
- How can we improve health advocacies on social media?
- Which Filipino communities do health advocacies & platforms like #UsapTayo & #HealthXPh need to reach more? How can we reach them?
- How can Filipino health professionals provide better information to combat disinformation?
Call for Contributions: “Inaanyayahan ang lahat ng manggagawa sa manupaktura, health worker, guro, BPO worker, agri worker, government employee, jeepney drayber, migrante, manggagawang pangkultura, at iba pang nais magsulat ng kanilang karanasan ngayong pandemya”
The Verge’s How to fight lies, tricks, and chaos online
UNESCO’s Fight Fake News handbook
UNESCO’s Information Sharing & Countering Disinformation specific for COVID-19
Let us continue to engage carefully and critically. Join us on #UsapTayo this Saturday, April 10. See you there, Mental Health Champions!
Smith-Frigerio S. Grassroots Mental Health Groups’ Use of Advocacy Strategies in Social Media Messaging. Qualitative Health Research. 2020;30(14):2205-2216. doi:10.1177/1049732320951532
Latha, K., Meena, K. S., Pravitha, M. R., Dasgupta, M., & Chaturvedi, S. K. (2020). Effective use of social media platforms for promotion of mental health awareness. Journal of education and health promotion, 9, 124. https://doi.org/10.4103/jehp.jehp_90_20
Freeman B, Potente S, Rock V, McIver J. Social media campaigns that make a difference: what can public health learn from the corporate sector and other social change marketers? Public Health Res Pract. 2015 Mar 30;25(2):e2521517. doi: 10.17061/phrp2521517. PMID: 25848735.
Moorhead, S. A., Hazlett, D. E., Harrison, L., Carroll, J. K., Irwin, A., & Hoving, C. (2013). A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication. Journal of medical Internet research, 15(4), e85. https://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.1933
Glenn A Bowen, Nickesia S Gordon, Margaret K Chonjacki, Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, Volume 21, Number 3, p. 5 (2017) University of Georgia
Latifat, Oluwatoyin & Ibidunni, Mofoluke & Akoja, Mofoluke. (2019). Social Media and Advocacy Communication Research: Trends and Implications.
Saha, K., Torous, J., Ernala, S. K., Rizuto, C., Stafford, A., & De Choudhury, M. (2019). A computational study of mental health awareness campaigns on social media. Translational behavioral medicine, 9(6), 1197–1207. https://doi.org/10.1093/tbm/ibz028
Sinpeng, A., & Tapsell, R. (eds.) (2021) From Grassroots Activism to Disinformation: Social Media in Southeast Asia. ISEAS Yusok Ishak Institute, Singapore.
Kemp, S. (2021). ‘Digital in the Philippines’, in Data Reportal. 11 February. Available from https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2021-philippines (Accessed on 07 April 2021).
Robertson, A. (2019). ‘A guide to fight, lies, tricks, and chaos online’, from The Verge, (03 December), Available from https://www.theverge.com/21276897/fake-news-facebook-twitter-misinformation-lies-fact-check-how-to-internet-guide (Accessed on 07 April 2021).
Democracy & Disinformation. (n.d.). Available on: https://fightdisinfo.ph/ (Accessed on 07 April 2021).