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‘Golden age’: Marcos myths on Philippine social media

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Philippine social media has exploded with support for presidential election favourite Ferdinand Marcos Junior

Philippine social media has exploded with support for presidential election favourite Ferdinand Marcos Junior – Copyright AFP Jam STA ROSA

Ferdinand Marcos Junior appears on the cusp of victory in next week’s presidential polls, with his seemingly unassailable lead fuelled by a decades-long misinformation campaign to revamp the family brand.

The clan’s comeback from pariahs in exile to the peak of political power has been built on a relentless barrage of fake and misleading posts on social media.

Pro-Marcos pages have sought to rewrite the family’s history, spreading fallacies about everything from the patriarch’s dictatorship to court rulings about the billions of dollars stolen from state coffers.

AFP’s Fact Check team has debunked many of the myths swirling around the Marcoses.

Here are five of the most shared:

– Assassination attempt –

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An alleged attempt to kill Marcos Jr ignited social media at the beginning of February, days before the presidential election campaign season kicked off.

A video posted on a Facebook account named Anti bias, which has repeatedly attacked Marcos Jr’s main rival Leni Robredo and her opposition party, showed a news report about a bullet hole in a window of Marcos Jr’s office.

It was viewed more than three million times.

But AFP fact-checkers found the video was more than six years old.

It had been taken from a news report published by GMA News on its social media accounts in August 2015 when Marcos Jr was a senator.

– Ignored by the media –

On the presidential campaign trail, Marcos Jr has shunned most media interviews and largely ignored journalist questions at rallies.

Yet multiple posts swarming social media claim he is the one being ignored.

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A video posted on YouTube on March 16 asserted that Marcos Jr’s rally in the northern province of Nueva Ecija was “not covered by the media”.

The clip was viewed more than 23,000 times after it was posted by a YouTube channel called Showbiz Fanaticz, which has a history of peddling election-related misinformation.

But the reality was very different.

Local broadcaster ABS-CBN and other news outlets including News5 and OnePH published video reports of the rally.

Another video posted on the Facebook page Para sa Pagbabago showed Marcos Jr speaking in 2014 about rebuilding efforts following Super Typhoon Haiyan.

It was shared 12,000 times and viewed 555,000 times, with many users commenting that the interview was not broadcast by the media.

But AFP fact-checkers found various news outlets had aired portions of the interview while other organisations produced reports based on his remarks.

– Golden age –

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Pro-Marcos pages have long sought to portray Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship as a “golden age” of peace and prosperity, rather than a violent and corrupt regime that left the country impoverished.

One claim that the Philippines was the second-richest country after Japan during the Marcos regime was posted in March 2020 on the Facebook page DU30 MEDIA Network, which pretends to be a legitimate media outlet.

It was shared about 300 times.

AFP fact-checkers consulted experts who said the economic data from the Marcos years told a very different story.

Philippine gross domestic product actually went from being fifth in Asia at the start of the dictator’s rule to sixth by 1985, as the country languished in a deep recession.

Another post on the Facebook page Bangon Bansang Maharlika in October 2020 claimed the elder Marcos and Filipino nationalist Jose Rizal set up the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

It was shared nearly a hundred times.

Both institutions were created in 1944, five decades after Rizal’s death and 20 years before Marcos was elected president of the Philippines.

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– No plunder –

The Philippines’ highest court said in 2003 that the legitimate income of Marcos and his flamboyant wife Imelda during their 20 years in power was $304,372.43.

Yet more than $658 million was found in their Swiss bank accounts, which the court ordered to be handed back to the government.

It was a fraction of the $10 billion estimated to have been plundered from state coffer during the regime.

But a Facebook account named Ghee Vin Walker posted a claim in 2018 that no court had ever ruled the Marcoses had stolen money from the treasury.

It was shared nearly 9,000 times.

Many Filipinos have been deceived into believing Marcos made his wealth when he was a lawyer, before becoming president.

One such claim posted on the Facebook page Gabs TV in September 2020 asserted Marcos received a massive gold payment from a client in 1949.

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– Abuses downplayed –

A misleading video posted on Facebook during the 2022 election campaign sought to downplay human rights abuses committed during the Marcos years.

Amnesty International estimates Marcos’s security forces either killed, tortured, sexually abused, mutilated or arbitrarily detained about 70,000 opponents.

But the video shows the elder Marcos alleging the rights group did not visit the Philippines and had relied on “hearsay” in its reports about the abuses during his dictatorship.

It was shared more than 3,000 times and viewed 184,000 times.

Multiple historical accounts indicate Amnesty International visited the Philippines at least twice during the Marcos presidency.

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TikTok Scales Back Live-Stream Commerce Ambitions, Which Could Be a Big Blow for the App

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TikTok Expands Test of Downvotes for Video Replies, Adds New Prompts to Highlight its Safety Tools

TikTok’s facing a significant reassessment in its business expansion plans, with the company forced to scale back its live eCommerce initiative in Europe and the US due to operational challenges and lack of consumer interest.

TikTok has been working to integrate live-stream shopping after seeing major success with the option in the Chinese version of the app. But its initial efforts in the UK have been hampered by various problems.

As reported by The Financial Times:

“TikTok had planned to launch the feature in Germany, France, Italy and Spain in the first half of this year, before expanding into the US later in 2022, according to several people briefed on the matter. But the expansion plans have been dropped after the UK project failed to meet targets and influencers dropped out of the scheme, three people said.”

TikTok has since refuted some of FT’s claims, saying that the reported timeline for its commerce push is incorrect, and that it’s focused on fixing problems with its UK operation before expanding, which is still in its roadmap. But the basis – that its program is not going as smoothly as planned – is correct. 

TikTok’s UK shopping push has also faced internal problems due to conflicts over working culture and management.

Last month, reports surfaced that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance had been imposing tough conditions on its UK commerce staff, including regular 12-hour days, improbable sales targets, and questions over entitlements.

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Now, it seems like the combination of challenges has led to a new growth dilemma for the app – which once again underlines the variance between Asian and western app usage trends.

Social media and messaging apps have become a central element of day-to-day life in several Asian countries, with apps like China’s WeChat and QQ now used for everything from purchasing train tickets to paying bills, to buying groceries, banking, and everything in between.

That spells opportunity for western social media providers, with Meta, in particular, looking to use the Chinese model as a template to help it translate the popularity of WhatsApp and Messenger into even more ubiquitous, more valuable functionality, which could then make them critical connective tools in various markets, solidifying Meta’s market presence.

But for various reasons, Chinese messaging trends have never translated to other markets.

Meta’s Messenger Bots push in 2016 failed to gain traction, and after its Messenger app became ‘too cluttered’ with an ever-expanding range of functionalities, including games, shopping, Stories, and more, Meta eventually scaled back its messaging expansion plans, in favor of keeping the app aligned with its core use case.

Meta then turned to WhatsApp, and making messaging a more critical process in developing markets like India and Indonesia. That expansion is still ongoing, but the signs, at present, don’t suggest that WhatsApp will ever reach the same level of ubiquity that Chinese messaging apps have.

Which then leads to TikTok, the world-beating short-form video app, which has seen massive growth in China, leading to whole new business opportunities, and even market sectors, based on how Chinese users have adapted to in-app commerce.

The Chinese version of TikTok, called ‘Douyin’, generated $119 billion worth of product sales via live broadcasts in 2021, an 7x increase year-over-year, while the number of users engaging with eCommerce live-streams exceeded 384 million, close to half of the platform’s user base.

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Overall, the Chinese live-stream commerce sector brought in over $300 billion in 2021. For comparison, the entire US retail eCommerce market reached $767 billion last year.

Given this, you can see why TikTok would view this as a key opportunity in other markets as well – but as noted, Chinese market trends are not always a great proxy for other regions.

The decision to scale back its eCommerce ambitions is a significant blow to TikTok’s expansion plans, not only from a broader revenue perspective (and worth noting, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance recently cut staff due to ongoing revenue pressures), but also in regards to revenue share, and providing a pathway for creators to make money from their efforts in the app.

Unlike YouTube, TikTok clips are too short to add mid and pre-roll ads, which means that creators can’t simply switch on ads to make money from their content. That means that they need to organize brand partnerships to generate income, and on Douyin, in-stream commerce has become the key pathway to exactly that.

Without in-stream product integrations as an option, that will significantly limit creator earnings capacity in the app, which could eventually see them switch focus to other platforms, where they can more effectively monetize their output.

Which may not seem like a major risk, but that’s exact what killed Vine, when Vine creators called for a bigger share of the app’s revenue, then switched to Instagram and YouTube instead when Vine’s parent company Twitter refused to provide such.

Could TikTok eventually face a similar fate?

TikTok, of course, is much bigger than Vine ever was, and is still growing. But limited monetization opportunities could end up being a big challenge for the app – while it also continues to face scrutiny over its impact on youngsters, and the potential for it to be used as a surveillance tool by the Chinese Government.

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In isolation, it may not seem like a major move, scaling back its eCommerce ambitions just slightly as it reassesses the best approach. But it’s a significant shift, which will slow down TikTok’s broader expansion. And it could end up hurting the app more than you, initially, would think.

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