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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Forum explores challenge of encouraging debate amid distraction from ‘trolls’

HOW do you deal with “online trolls” that abound in social media nowadays?

While ignoring trolls is an option, another tack journalists and media organizations can choose is conducting news literacy campaigns in order “to raise the discussion to a higher level.”

That was among the points that Sun.Star Network Exchange (Sunnex) editor-in-chief Nini Cabaero made in the Reaching Out to Future Journalists forum yesterday morning in the Marcelo Fernan Cebu Press Center. This year’s theme was “Trolls, Online Comments: Journalism’s New Challenges.”

“Trolls have become part of the conversation, whether we like it or not,” she told an audience of journalism or communication students, teachers and practitioners.

Part of the challenge is encouraging critical discussions about the issues of the day, but without hate speech, threats and nastiness.

“People on social media deserve to air their comments, to be heard. Criticism is encouraged, but not to the point of hurting others,” said Cabaero, whose office runs the www.sunstar.com.ph website, as well as the Manila bureau and digital projects of the Sun.Star Media Group.

Sun.Star organized the forum with the support of Smart Communications and White Gold Club, as one of the activities of Cebu Press Freedom Week.

Choices

To answer trolls, Cabaero said that media organizations may consider retiring their news website’s comments section and shifting the discussion to their social media platform.

If they’d rather not retire their comments section, Cabaero urged media organizations to manage their comment platforms by promoting discussions that have sense and ignore inflammatory posts.

She also advised journalists to avoid inflammatory words and use a conversational tone when answering an online troll.

If indeed an error is committed in a story, acknowledge the mistake and post an apology quickly, she added.

As for netizens, Cabaero urged them to be responsible before they post anything online. Her advice had four key points: “Read before you comment. Check your sources. Let your voice be heard but be responsible.” Remember that there ought to be “no space for hate speech.”

“Let online and social media be a public sphere for consensus, not a toilet bowl for excrement in words,” she said.

Her presentation preceded a question-and-answer session between the students and a panel of columnists, editors and social media personalities.

Content

Lorenzo “Insoy” Niñal, a Sun.Star Cebu editor and a columnist for Sun.Star Superbalita, advised students to use Twitter—where posts must be 140 characters or less—to learn how to write without wasting space.

Niñal, who also writes the comedic @SinugbangSugbo account, says he hardly gets nasty responses to his posts, but when he does, he also exercises his right to ignore trolls.

“You can’t imagine the pleasure of blocking someone,” he quipped. “Mayra, da, mirisi (Serves them right).”

Anol Mongaya, a columnist for Sun.Star Cebu and Superbalita and the founder of the “Maghisgot Kita’g Politika, Bay,” a Facebook community for political discussion, said that social media has helped him better understand what netizens think.

Kevin Maglinte, chief operating officer of Cebu-based micro-content site Mugstoria.com, said he believes that social media has levelled the playing field for content creators in getting viewers and readers’ attention.

He shared that in the early days of the site, they dealt with “haters” by liking the posts of those who had positive things to say, so these would not be drowned out.

Better

For Michelle P. So, Sun.Star Superbalita’s editor-in-chief, social media has helped her get a clearer picture of what readers want.

While some news or commentary posts on Superbalita’s Facebook page have drawn some trolls, So said she would rather focus on the larger number of netizens who comment with sense.

Bobby Nalzaro, who writes columns for Sun.Star Cebu and Superbalita in addition to hosting public affairs shows on radio and TV, said he recognizes how social media makes it easier for more people to share information faster.

But he said that there remains a fine line between traditional and social media, such as the presence of codes of ethics and practice in the former, and the lack of regulation in the latter.

What separates the two is responsible news reporting, Nalzaro added.

With an estimated 54 million Filipinos online, according to wearesocial.com, Cabaero emphasized the importance of building a community and encouraging dialogue. “Let this open space strengthen democracy and make us better at being humans,” she said. With UP Cebu student Stacey Marie S. Baladya
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