The Sound of the State of the Nation: How Twitter reacted to the 2022 SONA

Following President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s historic — and controversial — landslide win in the national elections last May, his administration now faces the task of translating his call for “unity” into a clear roadmap of governance.

The first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday was the opportune time for the new administration to articulate its plans and policy proposals for issues which Filipinos deemed as urgent national concerns: controlling inflation, raising workers’ wages, reducing poverty, and creating more jobs. But did Filipinos get to hear what they wanted to hear from last Monday’s SONA? Did they even engage with it at all?

To answer these questions, <brand-color>Syn & Strat<brand-color> analyzed real-time discussions on Twitter to understand Filipino users’ reactions and engagements during the SONA. With the data we’ve gathered, here’s what we found: 

Much of the Tweets about the SONA didn’t even talk about the SONA.

We saw that Tweets containing the keyword “SONA” started to trickle in by 4:19 PM, minutes after the SONA started. They peaked at 5:22 PM just as the president was wrapping up his speech.

Tweets that mention ‘SONA’, on July 25, 2022, 4:00PM to 6:30PM. There was a consistent average of 100 to 200 Tweets per minute throughout the SONA. The peak between 5:19-5:25 PM is primarily from an influx of Tweets assessing the speech as a whole after it had concluded. 

 

But while these Tweets seemed to directly mention the SONA, most of them didn’t talk about the plans and policy proposals that the president laid out during his one hour and 14-minute speech.

Many people focused on the “technocratic” approach of the speech.

For some viral Tweets, their approach was to discuss the speech’s “technocratic” tone and language. The first few minutes of the SONA dealt with macroeconomic policy proposals and figures — with several Tweets underscoring the gap between the SONA’s language and the people it aimed to address. 

While the President addressed most key issues Filipinos were looking for, such as poverty alleviation, unemployment, and rising living costs, they were sandwiched between jargon on inflation rates, expenditure priorities, and emerging technologies. Although others celebrated this more “technical” touch to the SONA, with the addition of key figures and statistics as well as the identification of specific priority bills, many felt it was inaccessible to the people who needed to hear and understand it the most.

Senator Hontiveros didn’t clap but still stole the thunder. 

The president’s SONA might have its standing ovation moments inside the halls of Batasan — but what really garnered praise from Twitter users was Senator Risa Hontiveros’ refusal to clap when the president was introduced. As the lone face of the opposition in the Senate, netizens praised her act of defiance, most especially during a nationally televised event. 

Word pair analysis of all Tweets (including retweets) mentioning ‘SONA’ during the 2022 SONA. Risa Hontiveros was a prominent character in the discussions because users were Tweeting a snippet of her not clapping as the President took to the podium.

After scraping all available Tweets during the livestream, we looked at the words that were most frequently mentioned and their relationships to each other (see the word pair map above). The word “SONA” was strongly connected with “risa” and “hontiveros” (blue nodes) just as much as they did other terms such as “president”, “marcos”, and “first” (red nodes). This tells us that Senator Hontiveros was just as prominent a figure in the Twitter discussions as the president himself.

Progressive personalities filled in the gaps on the issues omitted in the SONA.

Critical Tweets about the SONA and the new administration, especially those from progressive and opposition personalities, continued to command the largest influence in directing online conversations about the SONA. Out of the top 50 Twitter accounts with the highest influence, only 3 pro-administration accounts made it to the list, while the rest were from official media outlets, student publications, and critics of the incoming administration.

Much of these Tweets raised concerns about the conspicuous omission of pertinent issues in the SONA, such as curbing corruption, pursuing peace, and upholding human rights. Meanwhile, Tweets about the protests held by activist groups before the SONA — where they highlighted these demands and issues — continued to gain traction and engagement while the SONA was ongoing.

Only the proposal to reinstate mandatory ROTC generated prolonged interest—and intense debate—from the SONA.

Most online discussion on the actual plans and priorities of the new administration panned out on the evening of the SONA. Among the various priorities that were raised, the issue that sparked the most interest and debate was the reimplementation of the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in all public and private senior high schools. 

Based on data gathered from Google Trends, we saw Google searches in ROTC immediately spike during the president’s speech and continued to trend a day after. As of writing, “ROTC” also continues to be on Twitter’s trending topics, following behind “SONA.” 

Google search interest for the Philippines from 1:35 PM July 25, to 1:35 PM July 26. Searches for ROTC spiked during this period and was somewhat sustained until the following day.

For other key topics raised during the SONA, Google searches on nuclear power only saw a momentary spike during the SONA but immediately dropped afterwards. Meanwhile, searches for keywords relevant to the promise of not implementing COVID-19 lockdowns barely changed at all. Additionally, these two topics didn’t generate as many Tweets during and immediately after the SONA.

What can we learn from this?

The SONA had an engaged but reactive Twitter audience.

Despite the many national plans and priorities laid out by the incoming administration, most Tweets gravitated towards a handful of key moments during the speech, such as Senator Risa Hontiveros not clapping and the administration’s plans to implement mandatory ROTC. Although these moments were only a tiny fraction of the speech, these incidents were predominant in the Twitter discussions. It’s also worth noting that these topics are not relevant to policy, nor are they relevant to the issues that most Filipinos deem urgent, such as combating inflation and alleviating poverty. This indicates that the Twitter audience of the SONA is primarily reactive rather than proactive in creating and, more importantly, spreading content about their takes on policy and governance.

Twitter remains an “echo chamber” for oppositional voices.

From what kind of discussions went viral to which voices were most influential, it’s clear that progressive, oppositional voices are the most amplified on Twitter. Although pro-administration voices are also present in Twitter, they don’t gain the same amount of traction that progressive accounts do. Oppositional users also don’t appear to engage much with pro-administration accounts, preferring to reply or retweet content that they already align with. While we saw these oppositional voices try to fill in the gaps in the SONA, their questions and comments likely did not reach users who did not align with them politically.

Media: GMA News

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Pro-Robredo

Users who have explicitly stated in their profiles or posts their endorsement of Robredo for President

Pro-De Guzman

Users who have explicitly stated in their profiles or posts their endorsement of De Guzman for President

Opposition Supporters

Users who show support for both Robredo and De Guzman but have not explicitly stated who they are endorsing for President

Pro-Marcos

Users who have explicitly stated in their profiles or posts their endorsement of Marcos Jr. for President

Users with unknown political leanings

Users who tweeted, retweeted, or replied to content about the CNN Presidential Debate but have not declared in their profiles or posts if they are endorsing any candidate for President

Media

Twitter accounts of mainstream and alternative media outlets/publications. Media accounts are typically present in networks of newsworthy topics and issues because they report on them.

Find out how narratives and audiences emerge around important events.

<brand-color>Syn & Strat<brand-color> has worked with brands, advocacy groups, and national and regional election campaigns to keep them informed about the conversations and communities that are relevant to them. We can help you learn how your audience thinks about emerging crises and events that affect you. Let’s chat: <brand-color>contact@synandstrat.com<brand-color>