On YouTube, vlogger Sangkay Janjan gets away with lies and hate

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Philippines

Publishing organisation: Rappler

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-06-23

Language: English, Filipino

Authors: Gaby Baizas (author), Dylan Salcedo (data scientist), Gemma Mendoza (editor), Don Kevin Hapal (editor)


Gaby Baizas is a digital forensics researcher at Rappler, investigating information operations, online propaganda, and lies spreading on social media. She first joined Rappler straight out of college in 2019, and first served as a member of the newsroom’s social media team for two years.

Dylan Salcedo has been a data scientist for Rappler since September 2020. He currently works with the Digital Forensics Team, probing the digital media space and investigating disinformation trends.

Project description:

The project is a data-driven, comprehensive review of all YouTube uploads of Sangkay Janjan, one of the most prominent Filipino vloggers who promote conspiracy theories and attacks critics of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his son, incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Due to his large audience, vague YouTube policies, and a push to grant vloggers access to cover presidential events, Sangkay Janjan gets away with spreading COVID-19 conspiracy theories, lies about the Marcos family legacy, and scathing attacks on government critics, activists, and members of the press, with virtually no consequences.

Impact reached:

The investigation highlighted the harmful conspiracy theories, attacks, and other narratives being disseminated by a prominent YouTuber. YouTube has also been previously flagged by journalists and researchers for having vague platform policies – and the project showed that vloggers with enough clout can get away with spewing lies and hate on popular platforms, and uncovered the dangers that come with it.

Following the report’s publication, Sangkay Janjan had also [taken down 167 of his videos](https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/youtube-vlogger-sangkay-janjan-takes-down-videos-following-rappler-investigation/), which violated YouTube’s policies on harassment and COVID-19 disinformation.

Techniques/technologies used:

The researchers scraped all of Sangkay Janjan’s YouTube videos – posted from December 2, 2017, until June 14, 2022 – through the YouTube API. Researchers then ran the raw data through a natural language processing (NLP) algorithm, which allowed them to categorize Sangkay Janjan’s videos based on their titles. The author also categorized his videos based on the actual video content as well as the target/s of the vlogger’s attacks, if applicable.

In the published report, embedded visualizations include a time series analysis of the key categories of Sangkay Janjan’s vlogs, as well as a bar graph of the most popular categories based on view count.

Context about the project:

Part of what made the Marcos family popular post-Martial Law – after the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was toppled following his bloody regime marked by killings and plunder – was the plethora of pro-Marcos vloggers who helped amplify lies and propaganda surrounding their legacy. A distinct tactic of Marcos propagandists is to promote vloggers who spread conspiracy theories and to belittle and degrade trained professional journalists, even going as far as to lobby for vloggers’ access to cover official presidential events. Even Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself – the current Philippine President and the son and namesake of the late dictator – had focused on vlogging prior to his 2022 presidential campaign.

At the time the report was published, Sangkay Janjan was on the road to a million YouTube subscribers. He was also vice president for internal affairs of a new group called the United Vloggers and Influencers of the Philippines (UVIP), formed to call for vlogger access to Malacañang. Sangkay Janjan had the highest subscriber count among UVIP’s members, making him the most influential of pro-Marcos vloggers in the country.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Journalism helps hold power to account, which includes reporting on popular online figures who spread falsehoods and conspiracy theories to their large audiences. This project aims to serve as an example of how journalists can also report on ordinary citizens with a tendency to take advantage of their platforms, even if they aren’t in government, from a notable family, etc.

Project links: