MANILA, Philippines — They came, they saw, they tweeted. And by the end of the first-ever Social Media Day celebrations in the Philippines on Saturday, almost 500 users of Twitter, Facebook, and other social sites gathered in Makati and unlocked the Swarm badge on geosocial app Foursquare.
But aside from the Foursquare feat, Saturday’s celebration was teeming with positive vibes as many who attended finally got to interact with and put a face to the Twitter handles they only get to exchange tweets with online.
It was, as organizer Rosario Juan had put it, the biggest TweetUp they had organized to date. A TweetUp is an informal gathering of Twitter users for dinner, drinks, and a whole lot of offline chatter.
But in all respects, the Makati leg of the Philippine celebrations of Social Media Day was supposed to be just a small gathering of Twitter users, which eventually grew into a full-scale event, thanks mainly to the power of social media.
“We didn’t even expect the event to be [as big as] this. We basically just tweeted about it, and went with the flow [of people who responded],” Juan said.
And the flow, indeed, kept on flowing as people flocked to the Ayala Triangle to recognize the important role of social media in many Filipinos’ lives, and to prove to the world that the Philippines is indeed its social media capital.
Almost 30 million Filipinos are registered on the biggest social networking site in the world, Facebook, or almost 99 percent of the total Internet population in the country. Undoubtedly, Pinoys love to connect online, and they like doing so on a constant basis.
But aside from everyday tweets about their work or the occasional photo of a drunken escapade on a Friday night, Pinoys have exemplified how even with the little resources they have, social media has the ability to magnify good intentions.
These have been, time and again, proven during times of disasters, especially when gathering help and support for relief operations.
And who could forget Lola Aurelia, the octogenarian whose photo of her with a “Missing” poster of her husband pasted on her back touched so many Facebook users that, eventually, helped the elderly couple reunite after days of being separated?
“What makes us the social media capital is how we use social media,” said Carlo Ople, new media head at TV5 and one of the invited speakers at the event. “Whether it’s legislation, humanitarian efforts, or TV programming, social media in the Philippines just works.”
Daphne Osena-Paez, a media personality who is one of the more influential forces online, shared how Twitter became a central piece to her efforts to gather help for victims of Typhoon Sendong that hit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City in 2011.
“I used Twitter to help get breast milk donations for infants and mothers struck by the typhoon,” Osena-Paez recalled, explaining how formula milk couldn’t be given to infants during such a stressful time, hence breast milk was of high demand.
Such stories of generosity have already become hallmarks of Twitter, where 140 characters have not hindered users from speaking their minds and furthering a worthwhile cause.
It is for such reasons that Twitter has become an important space for Filipinos to show acts of kindness, according to RockEd founder Gang Badoy, especially since there are instances when “society doesn’t allow us to be kind.”
“On Twitter, we have [proven] this [to be] wrong. We have Twitter as a space to be a community that tries to be more nice, generous, kinder,” Badoy said.
She added that such moves take the world a step closer to the proverbial beauty pageant response during the question and answer portion, which is world peace.
“If we have to do it one tweet at a time, so be it,” Badoy stressed.
One such step was unveiled during the Social Media Day program on Saturday, an initiative pushed by organizers of the event — Juan and Tonyo Cruz — called Project 140, which aims to aid underprivileged youth nationwide with their schooling.
“It aims to identify 140 deserving students from the poorest areas of the country,” Juan explained to InterAksyon. “The goal is to put them through school and provide them with the technology they need, such as laptops and Internet connectivity.”
The project likewise sees to become a testament to the generosity of Filipinos and the power of social media, as donations and scholarships will be sought out through various online channels as well.
“In exchange, we want them to become the voice of their community. Because they will be in a remote area, then they would be able to tell the rest of the Philippines how life is like where they are through social media, blogging, or whatever online platform,” Juan added.