Just How Dependent Are Pinoys on Facebook?

Stats say there will be 88 million Filipinos on the platform by 2025.

ILLUSTRATION War Espejo

(SPOT.ph) Facebook is in local news after President Rodrigo Duterte called them out in his late-night address on Monday, September 28. The social-media giant recently made headlines after shutting down several accounts and pages—some of which supported the president while some backed the possible 2022 presidential bid of his daughter, incumbent Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio—the week before. 

But according to the president, the accounts and pages taken down by Facebook were "advocacy" ones. "You cannot lay down a policy for my government. You cannot bar or prevent me from espousing the objectives of government," he said during his address, calling out the global digital platform

"Now, if government cannot espouse or advocate something which is for the good of the people, then what is your purpose here in my country?" added the president. "What would be the point of allowing you to continue if you cannot help us?"

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So with Facebook suddenly being questioned by the president, we have to ask: What would the country be like without it? 

Why Is Facebook so Big in the Philippines?

Ironically enough, Facebook has been pegged as one of the reasons behind Duterte's succesful presidential run. The Philippines was one of the first few countries were Facebook tested out free access in 2013, effectively making the social-media platform the only portal to the online world for most of the population.

As Jake Swearingen of New York magazine's Intelligencer pointed out, Duterte's inflammatory campaign was perfect viral material on the free platform. Between all the death threats, strong promises, and rape jokes, Duterte's campaign flooded everyone's social media feeds—and still does so, even after he won the presidential seat.

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Statistic: Leading countries based on Facebook audience size as of July 2020 (in millions) | Statista
Source: Statista

The Philippines was among the top users of Facebook in the world as of July 2020 data. We ranked sixth with around 76 million users, behind countries such as the United States and India, which topped the list with more than 100 million users each. And in a country where the Internet connection consistently ranks among the slowest and least affordable, Facebook's massive reach must be helped by the fact that practically anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, can access it. 

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Obviously you don't need social media to live, but the recent digital revolution has everyone pretty much living out their lives in the virtual space. If you've heard the phrase "pics or it didn't happen," you'd know that there are those who've made a habit out of posting pictures, posts, or stories about their lives on Facebook or Instagram—both of which are, yes, owned by the same company. It could be an exaggeration, we know, but admit it: There are some friends and family whose birthdates you wouldn't know without Facebook. 

Practically Everyone in the Philippines Is on Facebook

Statistic: Number of Facebook users in the Philippines from 2017 to 2019 with a forecast until 2025 (in millions) | Statista
Source: Statista

As of July 2019, the Philippines had around 72.5 million Facebook users, with data from Statista projecting around 88 million by 2025. In the same year, around 76 million people in the country were on the Internet; leading to the possible conclusion that if someone had access to the online world, they most definitely were on Facebook too. Take into account the latest stats pegging our population at 110 million people and it's safe to say pretty much every Pinoy you meet will most probably have a Facebook account. 

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Statistic: Facebook usage penetration in the Philippines as of January 2020 | Statista
Source: Statista

Around 96% of the population accessed Facebook in January 2020 alone. There was a huge jump from 2018 to 2019, with more than twice as much of the population using the social media platform in 2019.

Geographic location has something to do with Facebook usage as well. In March 2019, around 64% of respondents from Metro Manila said they have a Facebook account, much more than the 33% in Visayas, according to Statista data.

Social-media Use During the Quarantine

PHOTO BY Data Reportal
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The ongoing pandemic and quarantine has also made the Philippines even more dependent on social media, not just Facebook. According to 2020 information from Data Reportal, around 64% or respondents from the country said their social media usage increased, as compared to a global average of 47%.

PHOTO BY Data Reportal

The reported increase comes months after the Philippines took the top spot for most time spent on social media in January 2019. Info from survey respondents marked the average time spent on social media by Pinoys at four hours and twelve minutes daily. Meanwhile, folks in Japan spent just 36 minutes a day on social media.

Perhaps you can blame it on our constant need to stay connected or our love for keeping updated with each other's business, but the Philippines has always ruled the digital space where being social is concerned. Remember our old nickname, "Texting Capital of the World?"

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What Does This Mean for the Philippines?

So as our need to stay connected and updated remains, so does the surge in fake news proliferating on our feeds. Facebook and social media in general have come under fire many times for aiding the spread of fake news and inevitably, holding sway over public opinion

Facebook as a tool in Philippine politics remains, too. The detainment of Senator Leila De Lima, one of Duterte's strongest critics, on the basis of illegal drug charges was made after stills of an alleged sex video featuring her and her driver made the rounds online, pointed out Swearingen in the New York article. And you might have heard of Mocha Uson and her blog

The president has made empty threats many times before, a promise involving a jetski being just one example. It's a safe bet this is one of them. But if he follows through, there is no saying just how Duterte plans to get rid of a social-media platform as big as Facebook in the Philippines. At a time when we can't physically go out and connect with people, and the tilt towards going digital in all aspects—for socials, schooling, shopping, et cetera—is in full force, Facebook, whether you see it as good or bad, would be incredibly difficult to dethrone. 

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