“Hashtag wars: Opposing trends on Twitter show online coordination strategies between Marcos, Robredo supporters” is a study featured in a #FactsFirstPH research briefing held on May 04, 2022. The full copy of the research is republished with permission.
Online campaigns on Twitter
Twitter has been a platform of choice for many online campaigns, whether for brands or social movements. In the 2022 Philippine state and local elections, Twitter and Facebook are two of the digital platforms on which candidates are trying to interact, persuade and rally with an electorate that is becoming hyper-engaged in online communities.
Tweets during the campaign period
Thanks to Twitter’s v2 API, we have collected tweets posted from October 1, 2021 (the start of the application) until April 27, 2022 at 5 p.m. (11 days before the end of the campaign period). Quote retweets (QRTs) and replies have been included. Since historical tweets were collected and not those posted in real time, the dataset does not include all tweets posted during this time period. Viral tweets may not have been included in the dataset because they were deleted by the user or by Twitter, or the account that was posted was private or suspended.
Focusing on the most engaged camps on Twitter, the Leni-Kiko and BBM-Sara camps used Twitter hashtags to mobilize and energize supporters during trending outings, volunteer events, information campaigns and election campaigns . This analysis focuses on competing or opposing hashtags that emerged during the campaign period, such as the following:
We also collected historical tweets for other important hashtags used consistently by both sides. The disparity in the number of hashtags (14 versus 9) reflects the level of activity displayed by supporters on the platform, which is largely dominated by the Leni-Kiko camp.
Twitter campaign landscape
From October 1, 2021 through April 27, 2022 (5:00 PM), there were 1,203,204 tweets, QRTs, and replies posted on Twitter that used at least one of the hashtags listed above. And from those posts, there were a total of 72,202 valid unique hashtags used in different combinations.
To visualize, a hashtag network was created to show co-occurrence, or the number of times two hashtags appear together in a Twitter post, generating 568,015 unique hashtag pairs.
Leni Kiko’s tweets
Zooming in on the 276 hashtags that appeared on at least 1,000 posts, we can see that hashtags related to Leni-Kiko dominated with 87.68% of the most used hashtags. The most popular hashtag is #LeniKiko2022 used in 40.28% of tweets in the study. The rest of the top 5 hashtags used during the campaign period also came from Leni-Kiko: #KulayRosasAngBukas (20%), #LeniKikoAllTheWay (14.59%), #LetLeniLead (14.58%) and #AngatBuhayLahat (12. 94%). However, please note that these numbers do not aggregate counts of different variations of a hashtag (e.g. #LeniKiko2022 and #lenikiko2022).
Looking at the content of the posts, Leni-Kiko hashtags were mostly used  highlight the candidate’s platforms,  to consolidate the personal testimonies of grantees, the stories of people who switched support and those who convinced others, and  to share and consolidate volunteer initiatives such as collateral and door-to-door campaign strategies. For example, the #KakampinkWednesdays hashtag was used to systematically engage supporters and show their growing numbers. Of course, they also show strong opposition to other candidates using hashtags such as #MarcosDuwag and #NoToMarcosDuterte2022. However, they only make up around 4% of Leni-Kiko related hashtags.
Event-specific hashtags like #CaviteIsPink and #PasigLaban were first used by Leni-Kiko supporters to generate interest and encourage more supporters to attend. Their use begins a few days before the actual event date, peaks one day before and on the actual event date, and continues for the next two days. For larger events like the #NCRSouthGrandRally, event-specific hashtags were also used by volunteers to appeal for immediate support like additional manpower and supplies.
The level of coordination and regularity among supporters in their use of Leni-Kiko-related hashtags is very similar to the way pop band fandoms rally for their idols on the online charts, and the way we react in real-time disasters on Twitter.
On the other hand, the most used BBM-Sara related hashtags were #BBMSaraUNITEAM (1.8%), #LeniTangaSaLahat (1.48%) and #KayLeniTalo (1.37%). In total, there were only 17 or 6.16% of hashtags linked to the BBM-Sara campaign and used by their supporters.
BBM-Sara related hashtags are mostly used by supporters to highlight why they are voting for the tandem. In particular, the #BBMSaraUNITEAM is consistently used for most messages related to their campaign. It’s also what Leni-Kiko’s supporters use to pierce their echo chamber.
Interestingly, more than half of their most used hashtags (10 out of 17) are aimed at showing strong opposition to the other candidate like #LeniTangaSaLahat and #LenLenLoser. Other popular hashtags include #BBMSARA2022, #KayLeniPatayTayo, #BBMIsMyPresident2022, #LETLENILEAVE, #NoToLeniKiko2022, #BBMParaSaLahat, #LENIDUWAG, #LENLENloser and #LeniLugaw.
As in the other camp, BBM-Sara supporters also use event-specific hashtags to promote and track their campaign releases such as #PulaAngCebu and #PulaAngTaguig. Apart from that, they also seem to borrow a particular strategy from fandoms – Twitter parties, in which a single hashtag and slogan are created and used by supporters from a specific time.
In their case, a central account coordinates and prepares the advertising material, which is shared by all for proper coordination. While this was an effective strategy for fandoms on Twitter, it doesn’t appear to be the case for the BBM-Sara campaign as none of their Twitter party hashtags were used in at least 1,000 posts. However, it’s still possible that their hashtags changed on the day of the event, but many of those posts were deleted or withheld.
#KayLeniTayo vs. #KayLeniTalo, #KayLeniPatayTayo
The hashtag #KayLeniTayo has been used since the start of the campaign in part because of the song written by volunteers and performed in many Leni-Kiko campaign outings. Messages that use it often express their affirmation of support for the Leni-Kiko tandem. Meanwhile, the hashtag #KayLeniTalo was created to counter this trend in which BBM-Sara supporters voice the reasons why the vice president and her ticket would lose the election.
At the same time, the hashtag #KayLeniPatayTayo is used on posts that speculate on CPP-NPA infiltration into Leni-Kiko’s popular gatherings. However, this claim has already been denied by the Vice President and independently verified.
The hashtag #KayLeniTayo and its variation #KayLeniNaTayo (2.23%), are widely used among Leni-Kiko’s supporters, as evidenced by its strong mix with other popular hashtags. In contrast, #KayLeniTalo (1.36%) and #KayLeniPatayTayo (0.7%) have very little mixing with Leni-Kiko related hashtags, which could mean little intention to spread their speculations within the Leni camp -Kiko.
#KayLeniTalo vs #KayLeniTaloSiMarcos
At first, Leni-Kiko followers hijacked the #KayLeniTalo hashtag with counter arguments while boosting it in the trending list. This is similar to how KPOP fandoms in the United States hijacked the #ImpeachBidenNow and the #WhiteLivesMatter hashtags. As a change of tactic, the hashtag #KayLeniTaloSiMarcos was used to stop boosting the opposing hashtag and bring attention back to the shortcomings of the BBM-Sara duo. It has also been used in posts highlighting Vice President Leni Robredo’s winning record against Bongbong Marcos in previous elections, fueling hopes for another positive election result.
#LetLeniLead vs. #LetLeniLeave
The #LetLeniLead has been one of the most used hashtags among Leni-Kiko supporters since Vice President Leni Robredo filed for office. It is therefore not surprising that it is still used in many posts today, mixed with other hashtags related to Leni-Kiko. BBM-Sara supporters are trying to counter this with the hashtag #LetLeniLeave used in posts about Vice President Leni Robredo’s shortcomings. However, this seems to be confined to their circle as there are no posts that mix with Leni-Kiko related hashtags. The #LetLeniLeave and its variant #LETLENILEAVE were only used in 0.5% of the tweets in the study, which is nothing compared to the hashtag #LetLeniLead which comprises 14.58% of the tweets.
Twitter has been a popular platform for online communities and movements, so it’s no surprise that the two biggest camps are trying to outdo each other to dominate online engagements and conversations.
For a hyper-engaged fan base, it’s easy to gain momentum with their familiar, casual, and strategic use of hashtags on the platform. But countering ongoing campaigns and trends is not as easy as we think.
BBM-Sara supporters were able to use popular hashtags like #KeyLeniTalo and #LetLeniLeave, and they managed to distract supporters on the opposing side by dominating online conversations. But that was short-lived as their fanbase isn’t as active and Leni-Kiko’s supporters have become accustomed to hijacking opposing hashtags to change the overall narrative.
While this may seem like a victory for the mainstream “Kakampinks,” let’s remember that elections aren’t just won online. We have yet to see if this dominance and momentum will translate into bigger and better results for the fans. – Rappler.com
Briane Paul V. Samson is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Computing and currently Chair of the Department of Software Technology in the College of Computer Studies at De La Salle University. He directs the Center for Complexity and Emerging Technologies (COMET) and is concurrently Deputy Director of the Dr. Andrew L. Tan Data Science Institute. His research focuses on the integration of human-computer interaction and complex systems research in the development of civic media and technologies that promote prosocial behavior.