Now that the smoke belched by Election 2016 has cleared people seem to be reflecting on what just happened. It seems some of them have taken to taking stock of the social media landscape to try to make sense of and possibly shed light into what exactly got into Filipino voters’ heads.
The underlying thinking fuelling this stocktake remains a partisan one that can be encapsulated in the question:
How in the world did a man like Rodrigo Duterte get elected and how, despite billions spent by the Liberal Party on the campaign did Mar Roxas lose massively and Leni Robredo merely tie with Bongbong Marcos??
The search for “blame” for this “travesity” of the Philippines’ hallowed “democracy” has led some to believe that it was some sort of concerted disinformation campaign organised from the grassroots and propagated via social media that was responsible for this outrage. Observers now lament that memes and other “misleading” content have flooded Filipino voters’ screens and contaminated their impressionable minds.
But it is interesting to note that most of those who gnash their teeth over the rise of these “alternative” sources of truth were, themselves, the very media mavens and “thought leaders” who championed the concept of the free market of ideas back when the “power” of social media dawned upon them. Indeed, we find amongst those who are now screaming bloody “propaganda” in fits of girly tweets are the very personalities that reaped scores of “bloggy awards” and “most influential” this-and-that badges of honour over the last decade and a half. Many amongst them had also styled themselves social media “experts” and promptly launched “consulting” businesses to educate politicians and celebrities on how to craft a winning “digital presence”.
A market, however, has an annoying habit of moving in ways that cannot be foreseen — specially one that is free. Filipinos obviously gravitated to a certain school of thought that was, as we see now, the anti-thesis of all the “polite” and “civil” thinking these now-traditional social media mavens and “thought leaders” espoused. The result makes for interesting times. The feeling is more real now and less pretentious. Prevailing thinking now emanates from the fringes and grassroots rather than from the iPads of the usual who’s-whos tapping away in their ivory towers in Loyola Heights or while sipping lattes (and guzzling free bandwidth) at the local Starbucks.
If people bother to actually do that stocktake of the media landscape, they will actually notice where they went wrong.
For one thing, their counterparts in the blogging community dropped the ball. We at Get Real Post, for example, are starting to feel the lonesomeness of being at the top of the blogging food chain. Unlike our former competitors (many of whom are now defunct or whose founders are spending their days issuing 140-character snippets of drivel on Twitter), we thrive on competition and concerted efforts to prove us wrong coming from the mainstream.
What the “civil” camp of this once-competitive blogging landscape did was form themselves into like-minded cliques and cocooned themselves within their own inbred thinking. Indeed, some of them encourage their friends to block or “unfriend” (on Facebook) people who share or propagate content from alternative sources outside of the mainstream (or outside of their mutual-highfivin’ cliques). The trouble with that attitude is that you cut yourself out of the loop of arguments and thinking that may actually help you further refine and strengthen your own position. In my personal case, I have observed that I actually learn more from people whose views differ from mine than from people who agree with me.
The key here is diversity. People bandy around the term but few actually know its real value nor practice its core principles. When you remove diversity from your set of friends and your social media feeds (by blocking or “unfriending” those who differ to your views or even post what you deem to be objectionable content), you do yourself a disservice.
If the victory of Duterte and Marcos at the polls came as a surprise — or, rather, a shock — to the members of these mainstream, “civil”, and Jesuit-educated cliques in Philippine society, it is probably because they were the very folks who, instead of extending the scope of their social media radars, shrunk into the comfort zones of their little cliques of like-minded kumpares and kumares and stayed there over the last six years.
Now that a so-called “strongman” is President, it is important that the Philippine blogosphere be invigorated by healthy competition. It’s not that anything has really changed. Politicians still need to be kept honest, injustices need to be called out, and new ideas need to be conceived. You cannot do that when you take heed of bozos who claim some sort of perverse intellectual ascendancy to dictate who or who shouldn’t you follow or be your “friend” on social media.