On the eve of the official campaign period, supporters of presidential candidate Leni Robredo flooded social media timelines with the color pink and the accompanying hashtag #KulayRosasAngBukas, showing their readiness to go against survey frontrunner Bongbong Marcos.
In an election campaign that will be waged mostly online due to COVID, candidates and their supporters from wannabe and reelectionist councilors to presidential aspirants are using hashtags both to woo voters and gauge how much traction they are getting online.
From calls of patriotism such as vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte's #MahalinNatinAngPilipinas to hope like presidential candidate Isko Moreno's #KayIskoPosible, hashtags have become a staple in social media campaigning.
Hashtags--whether a slogan, an issue, a call to action, or as simple as names--are a basic requirement for online campaigning to attract attention and stir conversation according to University of Santo Tomas political science Asst. Prof. Ronald Castillo.
"It's something modern social media-wise but it's as old as political campaigns because it is used to embed itself in the mind of the audience in such a way that it should cause LSS if it were a song," Castillo told reportr.
Trending hashtags are also a reflection of the public sentiment or conversation at a certain period as well as the evolution of social media use, University of the Philippines-Diliman sociologist Samuel Cabbuag said.
"When you see the trending list on Twitter, for example, you already get a picture of what is the community here talking about at this time... Very powerful ang hashtags because it allows people to track and follow the online conversation...It serves as an online archiving tool too," Cabbuag told reportr.
Take for example #AnyareComelec which became a top trending topic on the day that the Commission on Elections started to take down campaign materials that violate rules.
"Those are just two words but you already have a glimpse of the issue and you get the idea that people are concerned about this," Cabbuag said.
Hashtags pique curiosity
Hashtags, especially trending ones, ignite curiosity, especially this campaign season according to Castillo and Cabbuag.
"It makes people think. It makes people ask questions. Say for example a Bongbong Marcos supporter who sees #LetLeniLead would want to know what is going on on the other side," Castillo said.
"Hashtags help a candidate or a concern to be identified. And if you're campaigning, you want something that people can use to identify you and identify themselves with you," Cabbuag said.
Take for example the tandem of Senators Panfilo Lacson and Vicente Sotto III who use #LacsonSottoTayo and #LacsonSotto2022 to embed their names in the mind of voters. Presidential candidate Manny Pacquiao uses the same strategy, capitalizing on his initials for his campaign hashtags such as #MP2022 and #PanaloAngMahirap.
In the same way that campaign jingles make voters remember candidates, hashtags help candidates boost their visibility.
"When a hashtag associated with a candidate becomes trending or viral, it increases the candidate's exposure," Castillo said. "Exposure brings more information to a person."
Hashtags stir conversation
Hashtags provoke conversations online since it triggers people with different views to banter or debate online, according to Castillo and Cabbuag.
Take the start of the campaign period when supporters of presidential race frontrunner Marcos used #PulaAngKulayNgRosas in response to the #KulayRosasAngBukas campaign of Robredo supporters.
The conversation did not stop there with Robredo supporters responding with #PulaAngKulayNgMagnanakaw and #PulaAngKulayNgPosas.
"We are not passive consumers of information online. We can engage and these hashtags show how the people engage. That's why you often see yung mga tinatawag na 'bardagulan'," Cabbuag said.
"You can see the dynamic that people do with hashtags. If not discoursing, they're debating," Castillo added, warning that hashtags could be used to promote false information and boost the popularity of someone who should not be supported.
But this election season, regardless of the origins of a political hashtag, what matters is if it works for the purpose it is intended for according to Castillo.
"Regardless who came up with the hashtag, does it work? Pinipick-up ba siya ng mga tao? There's a lot of factors that come into play with that such as wittiness and how relatable it is for the audience," he said.
"The problem sometimes is that when something becomes viral or trending, there are people who would rely on popularity rather than the truth," he added.