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#MillionPeopleMarch explodes online despite falling short of target number


Although it fell far short of its hoped-for target in terms of real-world numbers, the so-called Million People March against the pork barrel at the Luneta on August 26 reached critical mass and went viral online to be heard around the world.
 
“Crowd estimates from the police say the target one million participants was not reached,” said digital activist Tonyo Cruz in his post-mortem analysis of the Million People March.
 
According to Manila police estimates, there may have been as few as 75,000 people at the venue. Nevertheless, that is a larger crowd than any other political rally in recent years, and observers have widely praised it as a resounding success.
 
“Sabi nga nila, it’s like a snapshot of the demographics of Philippine society. Kumpol-kumpol na grupo, iba-iba, but all fighting for the same thing,” said social media strategist Rosario Juan.
 
“All the way from Roxas Boulevard to the stretch of Rizal Park and the (Quirino) Grand Stand, nakita naman natin na talagang sobrang dami – talagang people from all walks of life,” she added.
 
Some have even gotten to calling it the biggest “eyeball event” the country has ever seen.
 
So what brought these thousands of protesters, many of them netizens, to bring their online protests to the streets?
 
Online spillover
 
According to Juan and Cruz, it was actually the other way around: it was a case of a real-world problem in need of resolution that echoed across social media.
 
Long before the #MillionPeopleMarch was conceived, real-world sentiment against the Napoles scandal and pork barrel revelations was already simmering to the point of spilling over online.
 
“After all we’ve been through with the trials and all that, doon nag-snowball yung mga facebook pages,” Juan said. 
 
“More than gathering the people, it’s really just spreading information and thoughts and being able to have discussion online about it also,” she explained about the role of social media in the event.
 
“Yung mga usapan na, ‘Ano ang mangyayari sa 26?’, ‘Pupunta ka ba?’ actually encouraged some people who originally did not plan on going, to see it for themselves,” she pointed out. “I think that there [was] enough call to action.” 
 
“Social media acted as an organizing, communication, publicity, awareness-raising and mobilizing tool for citizens,” Cruz wrote in his blog entry. 

It's still to early, however, to fully assess the online impact of the event, Juan and Cruz agreed.
 
Still an online fight
 
Although many people were able to post photos, videos, and thoughts on Facebook and Twitter, many were not able to get a decent Internet connection due to the density of people present in Luneta.
 
This is where the role of netizens who were not able to go to Luneta came into play.
 
“Yung mga taong hindi nakapunta, they really fuelled how it became a trending topic. Kasi maraming sumasali sa conversation who are retweeting all the images and thoughts, most probably from different countries din,” Juan said. 
 
This helped propagate information faster, allowing people in other provinces and even other countries to lend support to the protest.
 
You can’t call them “armchair protesters”, said Juan, because a significant number of them had good reasons for not going. Some may live far away, some students may have exams. But many still remain interested and engaged.
 
“Last night, may mga nagt-tweet nga asking kung may live streaming ba nung event,” she cited.
 
Extending to the provinces
 
Another way in which social media proved useful was in coordinating simultaneous actions in the real world across large distances.
 
Through Twitter and Facebook, people were able to sync and share mass actions in the provinces with the main event in Manila, thereby conveying a sense of solidarity and widespread support for the cause.
 
In fact, according to Cruz, the Manila protest could have taken a page or two from the provincial events.
 
“The protest actions outside Manila however were more organized, with programs and speakers representing the different persuasions who agreed to gather and mobilize. Such an arrangement would have worked wonders at the Luneta and kept the hundreds of thousands engaged,” he said.
 
Overseas support
 
Many overseas Filipinos took part in the protest as well, by posting photos of themselves holding placards saying “No to Pork Barrel”, and taking to the streets to protest.
 
“Social media will continue to play a role in keeping tabs on the issue,” said Cruz. But organizations, big and small, will still play a role in reaching more people and quickly mobilizing them. 
 
Going beyond social media
 
Cruz cautions that the success of the Million People March should not be attributed to social media alone, nor even for the most part.
 
“Social media was just a tool of choice for this protest. But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t use phones or landlines. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t meet in person and coordinated meetings before this planned action,” he explained.
 
“There’s a danger of attributing everything to social media. Because nobody believed in the first place that social media alone can prevail. It’s the powerful message that made this march possible.”
 
“The mere fact that thousands of people gathered in Luneta and elsewhere means that people care for this issue so much.”
 
This was not merely social media playing a pivotal role in making this idea a reality. It is a battle of messages, and “the battle has been won by the protesters,” Cruz concluded. — TJD/BM, GMA News
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