According to some pundits, President Rodrigo Duterte is waging not just a “war on drugs” in the streets of major Philippine cities. He is, they insist, also waging a war on social media, commanding an “Internet army” that disseminates content supposedly meant to discredit his enemies.
Are these assertions based on fact?
For one thing, that other lament of the Opposition, the eruption of a spate of “extrajudicial killings” perpetrated by forces supposedly inspired by Duterte’s “encouraging words” against “drug personalities” has also gained limited popularity but remains starved of factual bases. Reporting homicides on the morning paper is one thing. Proving these are state-sanctioned or “extrajudicial” in nature is another. So far, the Opposition has been unable to prove the latter beyond reasonable doubt. A murder prosecution (much more a conviction), after all, demands stringent standards of quality in the evidence presented by the accuser.
That track record of issuing shrieky assertions seems to have extended to the fantasy of this “Internet army” Duterte supposedly commands. From my vantage point, to be fair, clever memes and cutting-edge blogs have been churned out clarifying some matters in a manner not particularly flattering to Duterte’s detractors. And I’ve seen Duterte’s detractors and other prominent members of the Opposition reduced to calling for those who publish that content to just shut the f–k up. That call of last resort likely describes the profound frustration of an Opposition in disarray — whose most prominent thought leaders find themselves overwhelmed by the edge, sharp wit, and unmatched prolificacy of this imagined “internet army”.
Unfortunately for the Opposition, the administration of former President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III still casts a long shadow of dysfunction across Philippine society with much of the legacies of his mismanagement still felt by a struggling general public. As such, the irony of how the Opposition camp continues to make it easy for such content to be produced and disseminated to willing consumers seems to escape those who can do no more than gnash their teeth in frustration.
More importantly, none in the Opposition have put up any credible and broadly-organised challenge to this fantastic “Internet army”. It is like China’s annexation of South China Sea territory all over again. Rather than put up a good fight, the Opposition have been reduced to pathetic and incessant whining about the “unfairness” of it all. Rather than respond with an equal and opposite force, the Opposition, instead, choose to withdraw into their cloistered communities of like-minded mutual-highfivin’ amigas to assure themselves that they continue to be the prayerful “good guys” while all the rest are the “bad guys”.
The Opposition needs to man up, take stock, and get a grip. Put up a real fightrather than continue delivering that long drawn-out whine we’ve been seeing and hearing for months.
This is, after all, the Internet age and, more specifically, the age of social media. This is the landscape that once-credible “social media experts” trumpeted as the age of the “free market of ideas” — where a free flow and exchange of ideas and concepts are subject to the corrective forces of a level battlefield with each side applying critical thinking faculties to evaluate what is valuable and what is rubbish. This is an age that was supposed to have heralded the rise of a more informed citizenry and, out of that, a smarter electorate.
Then again, maybe it did just that and what we are seeing today may, in fact, be that smarter choice now in power and at work. Who’s to say, after all, that Duterte was the wrong choice? For that matter, who’s to say that there even is such an “Internet army”? By what authority do those who say so say so?
There is no evidence.
Evidently, some of these erstwhile prophets of free-market information brokering seem to now be backpedalling on their earlier pronouncements — that social media is now being used as a tool to misinform rather than inform. That is quite a presumptuous assertion to make. The big assumption underlying all that whining about this supposedly “misinformed” public is the idea that the Internet is being co-opted by Duterte’s sinister forces to bend people’s minds to their nefarious will. Perhaps. But the simpler explanation is likely to be more confronting — that the Opposition, quite simply, failed to step up to the occasion and put up a credible and organised challenge.