The COMELEC has a novel question before it: what to do about SMS and internet campaigning. Without pretending that this will be a comprehensive answer to that question … let me dispose of the easy half of that question first.
Can we do anything about internet campaigning? NO, we cannot.
The problem with the internet is not as simple as watching over public spaces and preventing or penalizing people who put up ads in those spaces. For one thing, we don’t even have that good a definition of what constitutes ‘public space’ on the ‘net. While it may be theoretically possible to regulate the creation of websites (the registration of the domain name and the cost of designing, putting up, and maintaining the website are susceptible to valuation, i.e., we know how much all of that costs) by simply mandating that their cost be part of the spending quota (which, by the way, is now just a theoretical thing), the thing with internet campaigning is that the website itself is not the most crucial element of the campaign. The real value of the site, i.e., how well the site can benefit your candidacy, is in how many other sites link to it and how high up does the site appear on search engine results.
Not to mention the fact that cyberspace is littered with online journals like this one. How can the COMELEC control the content of these blogs without infringing on the bloggers freedom of expression? Just thinking about it gives me a headache. After all, policing the internet is something that escapes even the acknowledged experts all over the world, how can we have better success? All told, I think that we’re still a long way off from being able to effectively regulate the internet as a campaign arena.
SMS may not be much easier.
One of the strengths of SMS as a propaganda tool is that it is cheap, it is anonymous, and it provides a window into nearly 90% of the population. And the NTC regulations on the matter – NTC MC 03-03-2005 and NTC MC 03-03-2005-A – only deal with bulk messaging systems. It’s a safe bet that political operators will not be using these bulk messaging services – Info-text type things – precisely because those damned things are regulated. Political operators will be sticking to prepaid cards that are practically a dime-a-dozen and set-up their own adhoc ‘text’ brigades.
These text brigades are composed of a core of hard-core believers who receive a template message from their agit-prop maker and just pass it on to everyone in their phonebooks. With a core group of even 10 people, each with an average a hundred contacts in their phonebooks, that ad hoc text brigade can reach, at the cost of one peso (or whatever the going rate for SMS is) , a thousand others. It’s like multi-level-marketing on meth.
Not that I’m giving anyone any funny ideas, but that’s how it is. How can the COMELEC regulate that sort of thing? If anyone has any idea on how it can be done, let us know. I may be totally against any sort of regulation being slapped on SMS and internet campaigning, but that doesn’t mean the COMELEC will just fall in line behind me.
So, again, you think my ideas are ass-backward, tell me. I’ll appreciate it.