Villanueva: Democracy in the age of social media

DEMOCRACY comes from two greek words, “domos”, which means, people, and “kratia”, meaning power. Basically, it means people power. Democracy, therefore, is a system of government where the people can choose the government through fair and free elections, where citizens can participate in political and civic life, where human rights are protected, and the rule of law are applied equally to all citizens.

There have been a lot of changes from the time that democracy was established in Ancient Greece, or even from 10 years ago. The most glaring difference is technology. We are now in the era where Social Media has become very dominant. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have become by-words. Tweeting, blogging and snap-chatting have become popular verbs. The popularity of this type of media has overtaken that of mainstream media, that even those in the mainstream media have to use social media platforms to keep up.

One of the guarantees of a democratic society is the freedom of expression. Public service has become more difficult to accomplish because citizens have become more critical of governance, and they have vocal about them. The protests are now taken from the streets to the social media. Social media have given them avenues to express themselves.

Sometimes, the anonymity gives them more courage, to the point of spreading fake news.

The reactions of people in government, from the President himself, down to the lowest unit of government, the Barangay, vary, but mostly, for those who have not caught up with technology would find it offensive or disrespectful when people use the Social Networking Sites (SNS) to voice out their observations and feelings towards particularly on their public service.

Last week, I expressed my displeasure on Facebook on the road construction in our place. I tagged the Facebook account of our Barangay, wondering what they are doing to make life easier for their constituents.

It earned some “likes” and “reactions” from my FB friends. A few friends who live is the same barangay as I, also contributed some of their observations, and it has become a banter of sorts.

A few days later, Barangay Officials released an official statement through their Facebook account. The first point, thanking those who gave their constructive and destructive criticisms/comments. Yes, they were comments and criticisms. Were they constructive? Most were not, I admit. Were they destructive? Most certainly not. Were they juvenile? Most of them were. Did it mean to demean anyone? Of course, not!

Second point, introducing their point with freedom to say whatever we wish to say, but Facebook is not the proper forum to air these sentiments. What is proper forum for them?

Is it the Barangay Assembly that is held semi-annually? Who finds time to attend this forum? Obviously, not a lot, because in the last one, there were more empty chairs than warm bodies. Are the number of attendees representative of the interest of people in the Barangay affairs? No, it’s just that most people are juggling their lives to taking care of their family and making a living. You cannot blame them for that.

Besides, no issue should have been raised on Facebook if these have been addressed those assemblies. And you cannot blame them for raising these issues just because they did not attend the assemblies.

Is it just by visiting the Barangay Hall and talking to the officer for the day during their office hours is from 8am to 5 p.m. This is the same exact time that the working sector is also at work. They would have to skip work in order to do this.

Is it through the suggestion box placed in front of the Barangay Hall? Honestly, when was the last time it was opened and actually had a valid suggestion or complaint. Messages take time to be sent, and reactions also take time to be received. It’s like snail mail all over again.

Almost everybody has a Facebook account that is why it is considered the most accessible, cheapest, and most widely used way of communicating nowadays, especially by the younger generations. I know I am not a Millennial, but I had to keep up with the changing times. I guess as public officials, they should as well, and should not take it against us who use this medium if they can’t.

Third point, I take pride that I live in a barangay adjudged to have the best sanitation practices, and is among the hall of famers in the cleanest and greenest barangays. Believe me, no one understands the importance of proper sanitation, cleanliness and “greenness” better than I do. I actually can write a long essay or deliver a whole-day talk about them in the language of Economics.

Finally, one that is totally beside the point. It was pointed at that as educated members of the community we should be proud of the achievements of the Barangay. I am one who have never flaunted my educational attainment (until now). Yes, I finished my Masters degree, Magna Cum Laude, and I am presently working on my Doctorate. I cannot undo what I have achieved just to please them. If it bothers them, then they should do something about it.
Please do not take it against me if I have higher educational attainment than them.

I am no better than anyone just because I am more educated. But it is with my education that I can be able to make ripples in the pond, without necessarily highlighting myself or benefitting from it. It is the power of the knowledge I have that makes me expect more to be done by the elected officials than what has already been achieved, because I know for a fact that this is their mandate, their duty, their responsibility.

It makes me think, if the person who posted on Facebook were just a Grade School graduate, would they have the same reaction?

I am guessing that they would not. They would not be pushed to issue a strongly-worded statement on Facebook. As responsible leaders, they should have been able to manage their emotions and rid themselves of bias. Furthermore, they should have verified whether the comments, criticisms and complaints they read on Facebook are really valid or not.

And, most importantly, they should have thought twice or more, as a council, whether they should post a reaction or not, or they should post a statement that is properly edited and toned-down, void of any emotion.

Indeed, governance has become more complicated. Public officials are put under a microscope and every move they make (or don’t) are keenly observed, and citizens are ready to call on every wrong move that officials do. Government officials should be pushed to be more dynamic, rather than static. This would enable them to become more proactive than reactive.

Social media may seem to be a hindrance to good governance, but it can actually be used to their advantage. They should not treat it as an enemy villain, instead, they should treat it as a bridge to reaching out to the future leaders of this country, who are empowered by the advantages of technology, the knowledge they have access to, and the voice they are given by this medium.

Changes happen. Going against it will not do anyone good. Public officials should better shape up or ship out. Because, as long as we are in a democracy, which I pray will never change, the freedom to responsibly speak out through whatever means they choose, is absolute.
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