Tuesday , May 22, 2018

Alamon: Fear mongering in the time of Duterte 2

THERE are other iterations of the culture of fear mongering currently en vogue in certain sectors of the academe proving that it is an emerging political disposition affecting other institutions of the nation in the time of Duterte.

Apart from the church through its CBCP head Soc Villegas and Inquirer’s own “Kill List,” Rappler just released a three part series that aims to outline the basis for a new paranoia involving the Interwebs.

This powerhouse triumvirate of a leading newspaper in mainstream media, a pioneering news website, and the Catholic Church reveals a consolidation of formidable forces united by a common agenda – to sound the alarm regarding the dangers to democracy that the present disposition brings. It was expected for conservative bastions such as the Inquirer and CBCP to take this path and it was only a matter of time for Rappler to follow, not because it is conservative by itself but because of the new media pioneer’s obvious political leanings.

The specter that the Rappler article raises in their three-part series is that public opinion on the internet is being manipulated by shady forces.

All these sound strange actually because a year before, Rappler was doing very well in that same niche, the shaping and production of public opinion for certain interests, that is what many also actually believe. What has changed from then till now except for the dislodging of the old disposition and the ascendancy of a new?

To be fair, there are definitely new schemes at play which are changing the political field. The rise of social media engineering and organized troll accounts, I beg to disagree, however, was not the invention of Duterte and his campaign staff, although they have raised the potential of these schemes to new levels not yet seen before.

The power of new media to shape politics has been there all along, inherent in the anarchic nature of the medium, which Rappler also used to great effect in dictating online discourse for a good number of years.

The new media pioneer influenced greatly the terms of online public discourse because of its savvy in bringing in fresh talent and the quick reporting of vital news. But over the years, it has also boxed itself into a corner for its liberal and elitist bias.

Rappler cites the dangers of social media evolving into a many-sided echo chamber, each with its own constituencies and adherents who do not engage others with different beliefs. They decry the toxic atmosphere that is presently afflicting the online community where emotions prevail over rational discourse. But remember who invented the mood meter? How many times did they elicit so-called “thought leaders” who echoed the same dominant liberal stance that went well with the position of the incumbent?

As new media pioneer, Rappler has a lot of gall to complain about a monster that it helped create.

There was a time when the composition of our vocal online communities was limited to Rappler’s constituency. But that demographic has changed and has grown larger and many of them have found their voice in Mocha Uson’s blog and the other manufactured websites that deliver for them a message they concur with instead of Rappler.

This is my beef with Rappler’s recent series on social media: just because they do not anymore have the sole power in defining the terms of online discussion, does not mean that people are stupid and are unknowingly herded by trolls and the social media engineers towards certain political ends.

Rappler laments the death of truth in media because of this manipulation. But allow me to put forward a new hypothesis - truth as a currency in media has been cheapened even before the rise of these troll accounts and other manipulative schemes. The public has been cynical about the influence of traditional mainstream and even new media.

When people share fake news, for instance, it is not because they believe in the contents hook, line, and sinker but it could be because they believe in its political ends. In other words, they are practicing their political agency as netizens in these instances.

The fear mongering that Rappler is also engaged in right now, like the reaction of the other powerful but conservative institutions at present, is but symptomatic of this shift in the balance of power in Philippine society. Consider this the reaction of certain sectors in an anomic situation, where the old rules do not anymore hold. Again, the condescension and haughtiness are apparent on this one.