Wenceslao: Ratings watch

I ALWAYS thought the story told by our teacher in our elementary days about the Dutch boy who put his finger in a leak in a dike was a fable like the one about the foolish emperor who thought he was wearing the most exquisite garment when he was actually naked. But not until Google told me the Dutch boy story was a short story within an 1865 novel written by the American Mary Mapes Dodge, who never went to the Netherlands until her novel was published.

The short story, titled “The Hero of Haarlem,” told of a boy who lived in Haarlem, a place that obviously stood in the way of water that was walled. One time, he saw a leak in the dike and put his finger in it to prevent the leak from growing and the dike from breaking. He stayed there all night until adults found him and repaired the leak. Thus was coined the phrase, “finger in the dike.”

I was reminded of the story while noting how the trolls of the DDS (Duterte Diehard Supporters) kind are valiantly plugging leaks in the dike (translation: President Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity) to ensure that the administration won’t be swept away by the rampaging waters (translation: either an angry people or putschists). It is a recognition of the importance of the “dike” to the government.

I have been observing the movement of DDS trolls since during the campaign period in the 2016 polls until now. In the few months after Duterte assumed office, government didn’t seem to need the campaign-period trolls anymore because of the inherent popularity a new president possesses. In this age, a leader’s popularity is measured by firms like Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) via surveys.

Then the second half of last year happened, when surveys showed a dip in the president’s popularity and acceptability. We all know what happens to unpopular presidents (remember Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s new term starting in 2004?). That surely had the administration’s strategists going in panic mode. Admittedly, the Duterte administration has many opponents silently waiting to pounce on it.

That was when the trolls surfaced again with a vengeance. Whether organized by government functionaries and funded by public funds or not, the movement of the trolls have become observable. Where before the comments section at the foot of negative posts about government officials and policies published in both legitimate and social media became enclaves of Duterte administration critics, trolls have become active there since Duterte’s dip in surveys in the second half of 2017.

Attention may also have been given to the conduct of surveys by Pulse Asia and SWS. I won’t say schemes were hatched but subsequent surveys show that the leaks in the dike have already been plugged.

Which brings me to a question thrown at me in a forum about how the media, both the “controlled” one and the so-called “mosquito press” contributed to the demise of the Marcos dictatorship. My answer was, not much. People may read or listen to media reports but in the end they make their own conclusions about the government.

If government negativity continues to grow, a million trolls couldn’t arrest the fall of an administration’s popularity. They could even cloud an administration’s appraisal of the people’s real sentiment.
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