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Online news and marketing practitioners met with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday to assert that campaigning on the internet using blogs, Facebook and Twitter actually calls for candidates to spend significant amounts of money. Tony Ahn, chief digital architect of public relations and digital marketing firm Tony Ahn and Co., said some candidates actually pay advertising agencies, public relations firm and marketing companies to represent them in social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Ahn said this obviously forms part of campaign expenses. “The Comelec rules focus on the candidates and on the end advertiser. (But not the) middle man such as the ad agencies, PR firms and marketing agencies that do most of the stuff on behalf of their clients,” Ahn explained. He said that people in his business are in charge of expanding the reach of candidates on social networking sites – at a cost. “You only pay when somebody clicks the link. If it’s clicked, that’s when the payer is charged… At P300,000 per month, that gives you a wide reach,” Ahn said.
He revealed that some of his clients actually pay celebrities to endorse them on microblogging site Twitter. Ahn then pointed out the possibility that election bets may seek his help for the elections.
"I do digital marketing on behalf of clients. Some of them could be candidates this year," Ahn said. To date, Ahn said he has no political client.“One of the things I wanted to mention is that Twitter is not necessarily free. One can pay those celebrities doing microendorsements. You can pay celebrities tweet about your band or costs. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that would happen in the elections,” Ahn said. As for campaigning on blogs, Ahn added that some bloggers were being paid as much as P40,000 to write about political candidates. Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, editor of citizens’ media site Blogwatch, said that candidates tend to invite bloggers to events for them to write about the elections. The rent paid for the venue, the food, among other things, may be considered a campaign expense. “They would gather the bloggers and they ask specific questions… We want to talk about, what is your stand on certain things. In this way, different bloggers will write about it,” Dado said. Impossible For their part, Comelec commissioner Christian Robert Lim said the public can’t expect the Comelec to do the “impossible” as campaign posts on the internet may fall under freedom of expression. “Ang sa akin, you also can’t expect us to do the impossible. Meaning if there’s no paper trail… Wala namang aamin na binayaran ako, 'di 'ba,” said Lim, who heads the Comelec’s Campaign Finance Unit. Despite the difficulties, Lim did say that they would go after candidates who shelled-out money for internet campaigning. “Kasi in the internet, you can’t really... isa-isahin mo lahat. Ang sa amin lang, if it involves expenses, hahabulin ka namin. Pero kung, if it’s a freeware something, wala kaming [magagawa],” Lim said He added that they would use the 2013 elections as a “test run” for the 2016 presidential polls. “We don’t want a repeat of 2010 na wild [at] no limits talaga,” Lim said. Under the Resolution No. 9615, Comelec has included "online election propaganda" to television, print and radio advertisements as a campaign medium to be regulated. But the resolution only cited online advertisements for monitoring. The poll body will allow online propaganda to be published thrice a week for each website during the campaign period. The display of online campaign for any length of time within a 24-hour period shall be considered one publication. A separate Comelec Resolution No. 9476 requires president and vice president candidates to spend P10 for every registered voter, candidates with political parties to spend P3 each voter, and independent candidates with P5 per voter. — DVM, GMA News