Published 18 February 2022, The Daily Tribune

Election season has started with the recent kickoff of the official campaign period. With the increasing use of social media and to leverage on its power to bring people and ideas (and even candidates) together, it comes as no surprise that the social media platform has been tagged by candidates and political parties as a key piece in their campaign strategy.

The rules governing the conduct of free, orderly, honest, peaceful, and credible elections through fair election practices are generally found in Republic Act 9006, otherwise known as the “Fair Elections Act”. The law focuses mainly on traditional propaganda such as television, cable television, radio, newspapers. Be that as it may, it also talks about “any other medium” which shall also be subject to the supervision and regulation of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to ensure that these are within the limits set forth in the Omnibus Election Code and Republic Act 7166 or the Synchronized Election Law.

Pursuant to this mandate, the COMELEC came out with Resolution 10730 dated 17 November 2021 to implement rules that would govern the aforesaid regulated forms or propaganda media for purposes of the campaign. With particular regard to leveraging social media as a key campaign platform, the regulations recognize social media posts as lawful election propaganda, regardless of format, whether original or reposted from some source, or whether the propaganda is incidental to the poster’s advocacies of social issues or which may have, for its primary purpose, the endorsement of a candidate only.

For social media campaigning, registration must be made with the COMELEC for the official websites, blogs, and other social media pages of political parties or candidates if the same will be used for the campaign. Only verified accounts and pages may run electoral ads, and boost or promote electoral posts, without prejudice to the existing policy of each specific platform for running such ads or boosting such posts (COMELEC Resolution 10748, 16 December 2021).

Note to those minded to engage in the peddling of fake news: Information contained in such online campaign propaganda must be truthful, not misleading, and shall not tend to unjustifiably cast doubt on the integrity of the electoral process. Furthermore, just like any other form of electoral ads, they must show a disclosure identifying who paid the ad. Just like any other rule found in the said Resolution, the violation of this provision on misinformation is considered an election offense punishable under the Omnibus Election Code.

A fairly new innovation in the time of boosting to certain targeted audiences is the prohibition of microtargeting of electoral ads, except those based on geography, age, and gender. Contextual targeting options may also be used in combination with such criteria.

Lastly, with all these rules to regulate election-related advertising which all cost good money, one might misthink candidates with deep pockets can spend an unlimited amount for campaigns. However, authorized expenses of candidates and parties are capped at:

Ten pesos (P10) for every registered voter for candidates for President and Vice-President; Three pesos (P3) for every voter currently registered in the constituency where the candidate filed his certificate of candidacy;

Five pesos (P5) for every voter currently registered in the constituency where the candidate filed his certificate of candidacy for candidates without any political party and without support from any political party; and,

Five pesos (P5) for every voter currently registered in the constituency or constituencies where it has official candidates, for political parties, and partylist groups.

There are reports that there are currently around 67 million registered voters for the 2022 elections, hence doing the math for the spending limit for national candidates would not be hard at all.

The question is compliance with the spending limit and of course, the overall conduct of fair and ethical campaigns.

(To be continued)

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