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On Tiktok, Marcos was winning long before voting ended

On Tiktok, Marcos was winning long before voting ended

I’ve lived on the Marcos Tiktok algorithm since February this year, a deliberate effort to understand better what was happening on the platform that seems to evade whatever kind of fact-checking, quick responses, and take-downs we see of Marcos content on Facebook. It was easy to get on the algorithm: all content I posted had the most consistent Marcos hashtags; all videos I watched, liked, and saved were pro-Marcos.

Soon enough, the algorithm surfaced what were clear content buckets — a set of digital content categories for any given project. There was standard funny meme content as response to anti-Marcos articles from media, and anti-Marcos statements from celebrities, the Liberal Party, and the Left, where the standard strategy is to dismiss the material as dilawan-Liberal (yellow-Liberal) or terorista (terrorist).

Another bucket focused on disinformation, whether videos of purported crowds at Marcos-Duterte rallies that were so obviously from other events, or criticism of Robredo that builds on the narrative of her as incompetent and unpresidential, one they’ve sustained for six years.

But what surprised was how majority of what went on my feed was of the third bucket that focused primarily on fan content. Here, the Marcos family is re-framed as an aspirational one, re-imagined for a contemporary audience that’s hooked on reality TV and celebrity and influencer culture on social media. Here, Ferdinand and Imelda are called Papa FEM and Mama Meldy, and their children are Manang Imee (older sister Imee), Tita Irene (Aunt Irene), and Bongget (Ferdinand Jr., aka Bongbong).

So named, they are defamiliarized and decontextualized from existing historical accounts of the Marcos regime — its violence, plunder, and corruption. So decontextualized, they are reintroduced and re-contextualized into a present space on Tiktok, where they are a family we aspire to, a wish-fulfillment as they are impossible dream — it’s exactly the same kind of appeal that celebrity lifestyles have on fans, including the push-and-pull between access and distance.

All of these create a completely different universe that’s happening right under our noses, and as we know now, it is a world-building that can affect — and win — elections.


Pro-Marcos Tiktok account were publishing fake election results early on election day, before voting had even closed.
Pro-Marcos Tiktok account were publishing fake election results early on election day, before voting had even closed.

And election day might be the best proof of how separate and distinct this universe is. We woke to election day on May 9, 2022 hearing news of vote counting machine (VCM) malfunctions. We watched our Facebook and Twitter feeds fill up with stories of voters suffering through lines growing longer by the hour, with people leaving and returning to their polling precincts only to find that VCMs had yet to be fixed or replaced. We heard the COMELEC insist that there was nothing irregular about voters being told they should just fill up their ballots and leave it behind for mass feeding into VCMs, never mind that this means voters are unable to ensure their votes are counted.

But election day looked very different over at the Marcos Tiktok algorithm. For one thing, they already had vote counts that started as early as 8:20 a.m., only a little over an hour after the polls opened at 7:00 a.m.

The account @mf posted an image of purported 8:20 AM results spliced with an image of Bongbong Marcos in line to cast his votes. That tally read 504,791 votes for Marcos, and 178,923 votes for Leni Robredo. This was viewed 629,000 times.


A pro-Marcos fan account posting false information of the election results on election day, while warning of possible power outages.
A pro-Marcos fan account posting false information of the election results on election day, while warning of possible power outages.

@EditsMrcos Araneta had a video slide show of purported election results from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. showing Marcos consistently in the lead across purported results for 11:30 a.m., noon, 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m. Posted at 3:00 p.m., this is given the background music of “We Are The Champions,” and the caption claiming that these are CALABARZON numbers. This was viewed 1.6 million times.

There were still four hours to go before polling precincts were to close at 7:00 p.m.

The 6:48PM results would be released by another account @Edgar Calma, with Marcos’s number at 22,259,467, and Robredo’s at 10,425,315. The text warns of brownouts, insinuating that this is how Marcos can be cheated. This was viewed 76,200 times.

As is the nature of the Marcos Tiktok campaign, these types of content appeared over and over across accounts, none of which are influencer in the sense that they are owned by “known” or “(in)famous” people. The same content appeared in different forms, with different music, and diverse captions. Some accounts posted the card showing numbers for an 11:00 a.m. count, where Marcos has over 1.17 million votes and Robredo over 978,000 votes, and simply caption these with variations of “Pray for BBM-Sara.”

Another account that on election day was @BBM?????? and a day after had become @Nantez?????? posted the same card with a deepfake video of the three Spiderman actors dancing to the music of Ghostface Playa that has one line: “Oh Shit.” The account captions the post with: “ez win na guys.” This had been viewed 86,000 times.

The same account also posted a video for the purported count for 3:30 p.m., showing Marcos with 4.88 million votes and Robredo with 3.11 million. The form is exactly the same as the previously mentioned post, but the caption reads: “Update guys. Sana di na magbrownout. HAHAHAHAHA” This one was viewed 1.9 million times.

As is on Tiktok, when you are on an algorithm such as that of the Marcoses’, this type of content is interspersed with fan content videos. For May 9, this meant election day content showing footage of Marcos at the voting precinct, Imelda arriving and being assisted by daughter Irene, and footage of the family waiting to vote, seated at the precinct.

Footage of Irene just shifting in her seat was created as content for account @RIRI, with the music from Shanti Dope’s “Nadarang,” and captioned: “the way she turn her feet.” This has had more than 110,000 views.

Video just showing Imelda arriving with Irene, asking what they are doing today, and Irene responding by putting up her index finger to indicate that they are voting, has garnered 913.8 thousand views. Account @irenemarcossimp captions it: “ang cute na naman ng hand gesture ni irene.”


Aside from false information, there was also a lot of fan videos on the Marcos Tiktok algorithm.
Aside from false information, there was also a lot of fan videos on the Marcos Tiktok algorithm.

Footage of Marcos falling in line and feeding his ballot into the VCM posted by @MarcosDuterte???????????? garnered 2.4 million views, and 375.7 thousand likes. The music is Zeus’s “A Thousand Years,” and the caption reads “Lord ibigay muna sa amin itong taong toh! Ang tagal po naming naghintay! ??????????”

On election day, that fan content was interspersed with a fake, baseless electoral count, while voting was still going on. Those on the Marcos-Duterte algorithm would’ve seen this content and arguably been bolstered by the “sure win” they were seeing on their screens — fake as it was. All day, this Marcos algorithm was setting the stage for a win. By the time those unofficial, partial results started being shown on TV, the people on their algorithm were pumped for it, their dream realized long before the count even becomes official.

While it is easy to dismiss this as proof of how disinformation on platforms like Tiktok (and Facebook) have ruined democratic institutions like the elections, the more analytical, important point to be made here is that people made this happen. The platforms are one thing, and certainly could do better at helping control the spread of disinformation; but this has always been about the people who know to use these platforms to serve the interests of those who will pay premium for specific outcomes.

Fan content is interesting because it surfaces actual people, on accounts that have faces on them, using diverse voices, cutting across generations, with different perspectives, all believing in the Marcoses’ inevitable and rightful return to power. It is a particular public that it surfaces, one that we should want to understand and speak to, not dismiss and deem as zombies or victims with no opinion, creativity, or point-of-view.


Marcos kin such as Irene Marcos were the subject of fawning fan videos.
Marcos kin such as Irene Marcos were the subject of fawning fan videos.

As with Duterte propagandists the past six years, these are real people who actually believe in Marcos, his family, and all that they now stand for, refashioned and reframed as they are for Tiktok.

And while the communication strategists responsible for the creation of this universe have yet to surface, there is no reason to blame this all on these public actors whose sincerity and agency are difficult to question — even as they are on the other side of the democratic space we all inhabit. What we can do for now is to understand better what the battlefield looks like, so we can finally and really take part in the battle.

Otherwise, this algorithm is also poised to win 2028 for Sara Duterte. They’ve also been churning out content for that the past six months. —JST, GMA News