Speak Up

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MORE THAN President Duterte’s pungent pronouncements against the West recently, what concerned me was the new spate of user-generated fakery that filled Facebook (and I presume, other social media) to mark the administration’s first 100 days. There is a continuing effort to sell netizens a version of reality that is at best enhanced and at worst completely fiction, and it is working.

Rappler has comprehensively tackled the topic in a series of incisive articles published last week. According to Maria Ressa, who authored the first two stories, the online campaign is surgically precise and works on the “FUD” strategy — that is, sowing Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt so as to intimidate and eventually silence its targets (=Duterte critics). This leaves an “echo chamber” in which the proponent’s message resonates loudly to an ever increasing crowd of adherents.

Case in point. Actress Agot Isidro recently posted a Facebook status message criticizing Duterte’s crass, unbridled rejection of foreign aid. Not long afterwards, this meme started circulating, as reported by one netizen:

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Screengrab from Facebook, October 9, 2016

I have several friends who have opted out of Facebook for fear of being splattered with the vitriol there these days.  Many people remain on social media but choose not to engage or say anything at all despite their deep anxieties about extrajudicial killings and recent presidential pronouncements. They don’t feel it’s safe to speak up because they might get bashed. Their concerns are valid.

Say something against the president or show support for Leila de Lima and you can expect a visceral reaction from someone in your circle. If all they do is question your judgment, then you get off easy. Often the retort is offensive and hurtful, at times even violent. That is the case if you post it on your wall. But if you post it in a public forum, then expect to be lynched. Certain Facebook users critical of the president have resorted to posting screengrabs of death threats they’ve received as a form of self-protection.

This is the mob mentality fostered by networks that are partly maintained by trolls (individuals hired to engage critics online, often using fake social media accounts) and bots (programs designed to provide automated responses to critical posts). These generate a tremendous groundswell of support for the administration from real people, a significant sector of whom are overseas. This is why in her video response to the second article in the Rappler series, Duterte surrogate/apologist Mocha Uson boasted that the Digong Duterte Supporters (DDS) count among its ranks scads of individuals from here and abroad.

Conversely, Uson accuses administration critics (whom she calls “mga kalaban ng pagbabago”) of working “24/7” to undermine the president and his plans for change. She matter of factly informs her followers that it is these enemies of change who are the trolls, they who run the bots, and they who are the paid hacks. This claim is inconsistent with what the Duterte campaign’s social media strategist Nic Gabunada admitted to Rappler:

It was Gabunada who had part command over the efficient network that included overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and even regional groups in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. During the campaign, there were messages of the week or of the month cascaded to what he called “parallel groups” or the Duterte “warriors”.

They had administrator or “admin coordinators” in various chat rooms that already existed. A chat group of admins constituted the “super admins”.

Gabunada explained that it could be a chat group of 20 people who could each be administering two to 5 chat groups or pages. “Their whole principle is organizing for social media effectiveness,” Gabunada said.

But even after an overwhelming victory with over 16 million votes, Gabunada explained there was a need to continue campaigning because they got “only 40% of the votes” and needed more than that to allow Duterte to effectively govern. (emphasis supplied)

So the online crusade continues.

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A message copied and pasted by trolls, bots, or actual Duterte supporters in the Facebook pages of mainstream media on October 5 and 6, 2016.

I am afraid that in this environment, the ranks of the rational may be eroded by attrition. We have to take a stand. When the arsenal of cyber technology is used to create an alternate reality, we who value our sanity must reclaim the truth and proclaim it.

This is not the time for silence. Despite the black-and-white thinking of many “#PartnersforChange,” we who criticize the president have no plans to sabotage his vaunted vision. What we desire is for him to respect the rule of law, to deal diplomatically with foreign friends even as he seeks new relationships, and to behave with statesmanlike dignity here and abroad. We can both support and criticize. In fact, our criticism should energize him and his cabinet to improved service, and it might eventually all work out for good. Maybe. More than anything, we desire the truth. We too can be partners for change if we are entrusted with the facts that will enable us to intelligently participate in the future of this nation. Mind-control is never a good executive option.

Speak up then and do not allow the trolls to dominate social media. The Old Testament prophets got flak for speaking against the unruly Kings of Israel and Judah. Despite threats, they spoke, and when they were thrown into cisterns and pits and lion’s dens, they spoke nevertheless. The truth will out. There is no stopping it. It is useless to even try.

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Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” – John 14:6 (NLT)
But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” – Acts 5:29 (NLT) 

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