My grandkids are into Facebook, and most people in the US know how the anti war opposition used Facebook and other internet social sites to help catapult Senator Obama to win the US elections last year.

But using Facebook groups for political purposes is not limited to the US.

Here in the Philippines, we have a big presidential election coming up in 2010, and the politicians are starting to organize.

From ABS-CBN:

Among the political personalities who have Facebook profiles are Senators Loren Legarda, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Richard Gordon, Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, and National Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr..

Even former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, who is also rumored to be preparing to run in the 2010 presidential election, has a Facebook page.

Heh. Erap is older than I am. If they held the election tomorrow, he’d win in this area, despite the fact that he has already been convicted (and pardoned) for corruption. After all, when the reform leader who replaced him has managed to double her personal worth in office, voters figure Erap was so honest he was caught, and didn’t hide the bribes like other politicians.

Another country using the internet to build up votes in elections is India. Last week’s stunning election in India included internet politicking among the tech savvy middle class and youth: groups that often don’t vote in previous elections.

From Kioskia:

“A lot of people have seen the change in the US since the elections and made them realise that they can actually do something,” said Shridhar Jagannathan, a 30-year-old copywriter involved in the non-partisan www.voteindia.in website.

But another internet savvy country is using the internet to promote opposition leaders and discuss issues that aren’t always being discussed in that country’s mainstream (government controlled) media: Iran.

President Ahbaminejad is opposed by one other radical leader, and two reform leaders. AFP has the background HERE.

Like other Islamic countries, Iran used to block Facebook, certain blogs and some internet sites. This is done partly to restrict free speech, but also to keep out immoral sites and discourage internet immorality (although YouTube and other sites are allowed) . Of course, internet savvy youth could use software to get around the blockage, but that’s another story.

However, the Iranian government removed the Facebook ban earlier this year, and internet savvy Iranians are using it to keep supporters aware of election issues.

Opposition leaders are using Facebook to reach out to voters, to inform them of rallies being held, and to allow members to discuss issues that are not covered well in the government controlled media.

From the Washington Post:

“The government wants to prevent all free discussions on the elections,” said Abtahi, a former vice president and adviser to Mehdi Karroubi, one of the challengers, who advocates more civil rights….

“We used Facebook to be in direct contact with the voters”, said Saleh Behesti, 22, an industrial design student who helped organize the internet campaign of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Ahmadinejad’s most serious contender…

How successful is the outreach?

Well, the WaPost article also says that Facebook was used to helped to organize the huge rally last Saturday, where former President Khatami announced he was backing ex premier Mousavi in June’s elections.

“We had 6,000 people on Facebook sending information on Mousavi’s speeches and meetings out to all their friends,” Behesti said. On Saturday, 20,000 people turned out for a Mousavi campaign rally in a Tehran stadium. “Without Facebook we would have never been able to gather so many people,” Behesti said.

And so I’m sure it was just a coincidence that the Iranian government banned Facebook on Saturday.

(Photo of the Saturday rally from Tehran PhotoBlog, who has photos of various rallies HERE and HERE .)

In contrast, when the president’s press spokesman was asked about the censorship, he said:

“I don’t have a Facebook page”, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, press advisor to President Ahmadinejad said. “I’ve never even heard of Facebook, please ask someone else.”

Hmm.

Maybe he should ask John McCain for advice about the internet.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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