What the West can’t accept: Filipino democracy thrives on social media under Duterte

What the West can’t accept: Filipino democracy thrives on social media under Duterte

- in Opinion

Can someone please tell me what the threshold for fake news is? Because if we are to believe the latest in the long line of studies which brand the Philippines as a hotbed for online propaganda machinery, then I would be forced to suppose every one of the millions of Filipinos who voted for President Duterte and the millions who still vote in favor of him in all the many surveys we independently conduct to be, well… trolls. Am I to believe that we are a nation of trolls?

I’m referring to the 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation, published by researchers from the University of Oxford as part of their Computational Propaganda Research Project. In it, they claim that Philippine social media is being manipulated by interested parties – a form of media manipulation a la Cambridge Analytica. According to the study, its methodology for this report consists of four stages:

  • A systematic content analysis of news articles reporting on cyber troop activity;
  • A secondary literature review of public archives and scientific reports;
  • Drafting country case studies; and
  • Expert consultations

As you can see, there’s not any public consultation. Now that we all know the possibly insidious purposes of social media, thanks again to Cambridge Analytica and their bonfire of a meltdown, shouldn’t community opinion be an important gauge of whether or not any manipulation was going on?

Nowhere in the study did it give a change to the possibility that social media is the great equalizer of communication, not The End of Information. Think of it as a disruptive force in an otherwise monopolized industry. Traditional media got to dictate what and who was important for hundreds of years. Businesses controlled by advertisers and profit were able to hoodwink the entire world by claiming the word “news”. Traditional media was meant to be heard, not to hear.

However, social media gives every Tom, Dick, and Harry their own space, no matter how many friends or followers they have, the opportunity to voice their opinion. Whether it’s worth any salt at all. It’s a goddamn wonderful time to be alive but we can’t enjoy it because losing powers are intent on maintaining their status quo. Traditional media would take this as the birth of Fake News, I take it as the start of people taking the news back into their own hands. Opinions can be aired and validated outside of the payroll of advertisers. It’s not a devolution – it’s a revolution.

So now we have studies like this which loosely wield the Fake News label in order to defend the discount movements that they don’t agree with. Is it really Fake News when people don’t agree with what their being told is newsworthy? Is it political machinery when Filipinos take to Facebook to voice their overwhelming support of the current administration?

Is it so unbelievable that people want change? One thing for sure is that it is dangerous to mainstream media, who rely on advertisers, that they no longer control information. But to have people completely uninterested in what they have to say? It’s a death they will sell their souls to avoid.

What the Philippines has is not social media manipulation. What is has is generations of dissatisfaction with the status quo and a miracle-given opportunity to express this frustration. Much more, it has the opportunity to actually give the people the ability to control their futures.

Conversations are healthy. Monopolies are not. Living in the Philippines, I would say that social media is one of the best things that has happened to us. Everyone can have a Facebook account where they can take concrete action against the things they hear on the radio or see on TV.

Why don’t you look into who is using social media and who is throwing out the accusations of manipulation? Or would this research disprove your thesis? Are they scared to find that the vilification of social media is a propaganda of the elites to drive the narrative that the government is using trolls and fake accounts, when in fact Filipinos turn to social media to express their genuine explosion of anger and frustration at a broken system?

The ordinary Filipino is not so stupid to be fooled by mainstream media anymore, what proof do you have that they would be fooled by imagined social media manipulation?

The social media movement is the fight of our modern times. It can arguably be described as the biggest interruption in human society. Words have power, but now that power is no longer monopolized. It’s only terrifying if you’re on the losing side of history.

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