WHEN I heard Communications Secretary Martin Andanar’s rant against the Malacañang press corps that reported President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement on the declaration of martial law, I was reminded of a question asked by a student during one of the forums that I attended. How big was the role played by the controlled press under the dictatorship of former president Ferdinand Marcos to perpetuate his authoritarian role?

It was in essence a question about the relationship between the media and the audience, or on how the latter processes the information, or disinformation, that the former articulates. My answer was that in the final analysis, media didn’t play a decisive role in maintaining the dictatorship because it is the audience, or the people who will decide what and whom to believe. The media provides the information--or disinformation--the people makes the conclusion.

I thus believe that, more often than not, propaganda is overrated. Other factors played a part on why the Marcos dictatorship lasted long, and the press paying homage to Marcos was the least of them. Marcos seized state power and brutally used the military to cow the people. The sowing of fear and not the unleashing of propaganda played a bigger role in Marcos’s success. People largely treated the reports of the controlled press with either suspicion or amusement but they feared the Marcos regime.

It was when people had gotten over the fear and the opposition got increasingly organized that Marcos’s rule began to crumble. The sprouting of the so-called mosquito press that exposed the true state of the nation under Marcos coincided with this development. And the mosquito press like the Malaya, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and in Cebu the Visayan Herald did not cause the downfall of the dictatorship. It merely egged the opposition on.

The same line of questioning can be asked now. What role did social media play in candidate Rodrigo Duterte’s successful presidential run? Again, I would say that many factors can be credited for Duterte’s win and the output of his social media warriors is the least of them. The faults of the current electoral setup played a major role in that win.

So Andanar need not fret about how the media reports the President’s statements. He should rather recognize the people’s capacity to sift through the many information emanating everywhere and to come up with their own conclusions. There may be times that people get fooled with disinformation but eventually they are able to see through these.

Andanar must be told that the rise or fall of the Duterte administration does not hinge primarily on the kind of information traditional and social media delivers. Or that the administration’s rise or fall does not hinge on how well its army of trolls defend the President or slander the political opposition. Duterte’s continued popularity hinges on how well he does his job and delivers his promises.

In this sense, the power of the Duterte social warriors to shape public opinion in favor of the Duterte administration is a mirage. They seem capable only because the President is still popular. Wait until that popularity wanes. They will surely suffer the fate of the controlled press under the Marcos dictatorship.