A RECENT survey by a youth advocate group in partnership with the Social Weather Stations found that 6 in 10 Filipino youths rely on social media to immerse themselves in political issues.

As many as 60 percent of young netizens like or share political posts, 54 percent intentionally look for political issues, while 49 percent discuss what they picked up online with other people, the survey said.

Ninety-seven percent have social media accounts, and Facebook and Twitter are the platforms of choice.

The survey underscores the potential of politically engaged youths on social media to make a deep impact in the 2022 elections. The Commission on Elections notes that 35 percent of voters in 2019 were 18 to 29 years old. That represents a huge voting bloc that no candidate can ignore.

It's safe to assume that majority of those voters are tethered to the internet. Filipinos spend 10 hours a day hunched over their smartphones, laptops and tablets.

Not surprisingly, the shift to online campaigning has accelerated at almost blazing speed. Television is still the main source of news in the Philippines, but Facebook is not far behind, outpacing radio and newspapers.

In the late 1940s, Antonio Quirino set up a radio station, DZAQ, to help his brother, Elpidio Quirino, who was running for president, reach potential voters without going on tiring campaign sorties. The art of campaigning has come a long way since.

Online campaigning was an untested concept before Barack Obama made it a key cog in his election machinery in 2008. Donald Trump almost exclusively used Twitter to communicate with his supporters and to blast away at his opponents.

One study traces the rise of social media and the spread of false information to "the disappearance of trusted local news organizations from the media landscape. The proliferation of 'news deserts' — communities where there are no responsible local news organizations to provide information to residents and to counter false stories — has meant that misinformation is often taken for fact and spread virally through people's social networks unchecked."

A social expert says the digital revolution "has unfolded more rapidly and has had broader, deeper and more transformative repercussions on politics and news than any prior transition in communication technology, including the advent of television."

We totally agree. Social media has given politicians unprecedented access to the public, and candidates are cashing in on it. It can "humanize" candidates and "helps voters feel more connected to them," according to a political analyst.

The access, however, has spawned an entire industry that thrives on deception and manipulation.

Troll farms have been around for quite a while, but they usually go into overdrive during elections. Candidates are their favorite clients, particularly those with robust campaign chests.

Dealing with trolls

It used to be that Philippine elections were notorious for candidates resorting to either buying votes or intimidating voters. Those methods of persuasion still come in handy, but today's savvy candidates are leaning more toward trolls to discredit their rivals and prop up their own persona. It's more cost-efficient and less violent.

Trolls prey on netizens who consider what they read on Facebook or Twitter as gospel truth. They also may not have access to, or be aware of, credible news sources where they could check the veracity of what has been posted, or are simply too lazy to do some fact-checking.

As the 2022 elections near, expect the troll activity to escalate and get more vicious. How do we confront it?

Mildred Ople of the YouthLedPH, the group behind the survey, advised young netizens to THINK: Is what they read True? Is it Helpful if you respond? Will it Inspire other people to be reminded or for them not to be misled? Is it Needed? Will I be Kind to those who post fake news?

Mainstream media organizations can also pitch in by giving more space or air time to debates or forums involving candidates to provide them the platform to expound on their programs and answer and clarify troll-driven disinformation.