The Digital Dissonance: How closely does online reflect on-the-ground?

Out of the many titles earned and nicknames bestowed unto the Philippines over the years, “Social Media Capital of the World” is one of the few that really stuck.

And it’s no wonder; the Philippines consistently tops the global list of most time spent on social media. In fact, social media has permeated Filipinos’ lives so much that the most recent Philippine Trust Index found that Filipinos now trust social media more than media as an institution, with the latter being more associated with traditional forms of media.

Social media has been at the epicenter of disruption in society. It has democratized communication and the flow of information to unprecedented levels, so much so that in recent years, we have seen key events in the political, economic and even cultural spheres driven by online chatter.

How many rallies and boycotts have started as Facebook events? Or how many business and government leaders switched strategies or even resigned because of social media backlash on one viral post or another? And just how many small-town teenagers turned into global trendsetters for unlocking the secret to creating thumb-stopping content?

But while the power of social media is a rarely questioned fact, empowering people comes with the risk that these newfound capabilities will be used for malicious intents. For years now, Filipinos’ social media feeds have been plagued with fake news and propaganda masked as legitimate information. Trickier still, even content that are not necessarily fake or false can sometimes still be exaggerated and even misleading — a troubling reality given how much we trust social media, and how widely our behaviors and beliefs can change because of the things we read online.

So how closely does on-the-web content reflect on-the-ground realities?

This question called for another experiment at The EON Group office. Using Groundswell™, our proprietary and award-winning social media listening service, we tuned in on online conversations from June 2016 to June 2017 to find out how Filipinos talk about trust in society’s key institutions. We then compared this information with the on-the-ground realities we uncovered in the Philippine Trust Index (PTI), our nationwide study that looks into the levels and drivers of trust in six institutions — the Government, the Business Sector, the Media, the Academe, the Church, and NGOs.

The results validated the inkling we all shared.

We found that while social media conversations capture only a part of the picture — and often it’s the most negative and thus controversial parts that surface — online chatter actually reflect or at the very least are symptomatic of the on-the-ground realities about Filipino trust.

Out of the six institutions, the Government, the Media and the Church were the focus of the most number of posts relevant to the overall topic of trust in institutions. And when we dug deeper, we found these three highlights:

1. Filipinos talked about trust in the government most frequently and least negatively compared to other institutions, and this fact reflects the remarkable jump in trust in this institution in this year’s PTI.

Even at the level of sub-institutions we see alignments. The Office of the President (37%) and the Office of the Vice President (29%) were the most mentioned, and just as the OP is the most trusted sub-institution while the OVP is the least trusted one, the OP garnered the most positive sentiments while the OVP, the most negative.

2. Most of the conversations about the Church and the Media tied back to the government in one way or another, and this link to the government was also where the negative sentiments toward these institutions stemmed. For the church, most of these government-related posts centered on peace and security issues (e.g., war on drugs, death penalty, extrajudicial killings), while for the media, the posts were largely about government personalities and often in the context of these personalities lambasting the media.

What’s interesting is that the negative sentiments directed toward the Church and the Media were tied to how the President feels about them; whenever he criticizes either institution — notably the only two institutions that did not experience a rise of extreme trust this year — the negative online chatter also rose. Is President Duterte’s power over opinion really strong enough to create widespread shifts in public perception of institutions?

3. Out of all the issues faced by Filipinos every day that could change the way they trust their institutions, Filipinos on social media choose to discuss peace and security issues the most — not just in relation to the Government either, but also to the Church and to the Media.

Online, Filipinos talked about Marawi, and the death penalty, and extrajudicial killings, and terrorism and the wide range of issues that threatened their sense of security.

The ability to ensure peace and security is also the top driver of trust in the government — higher on the list of Filipino priorities than even helping the poor and creating job opportunities. As a side note, this might also shed light on both Pres. Duterte’s presidential victory and his continued strong support: he has been consistent in putting peace and security at the heart of his messaging, and he has been communicating this since day one of his campaign. He hits the issue that resonates most with Filipinos, and as a result, other institutions — like the Church and the Media — are judged based on how much they contribute to achieving this goal. And that reflects on social media.

While social media tends to paint a more critical picture of reality (after all, emotionally-charged posts have higher virality potential than sober ones), it’s clear that online conversations are symptomatic of the actual sentiments of the Filipino people and at the very least can serve as a litmus test of the issues that matter the most to Filipinos. This should come as no surprise as people naturally talk about the things that matter to them. This also suggests that the bots and paid trolls and fake profiles that have invaded the local social media sphere play on sentiments that already exist and only serve to amplify rather than manufacture them.

At this point, there isn’t enough data to determine whether this reflection of realities is because Filipinos like to honestly say what they feel and think online, or if Filipinos’ opinions are so heavily influenced by social media that it truly changes what they believe. What we do know is that considering the fact that Filipino trust in social media is on the rise, institutions would do well to take control of and improve on their digital reputation as this just as well might be what tips the scales of trust.

The Philippine Trust Index (PTI) is the EON Group’s multi-awarded proprietary research that looks into the levels and drivers of trust among Filipinos. It is a nationwide survey that cuts across socieconomic, educational, geographic and demographic backgrounds to discover the levels and drivers of trust in society’s key institutions — the Government, the Business Sector, the Media, Non-Governmental Organizations, the Church and the Academe. For more information about the discoveries of the Philippine Trust Index 2017, please email

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