This is in response to Maria Ressa’s comment on a post dated October 5, 2016.
John, sino ba’ng hindi gustong magkaisa? Understand we all live in the Philippines, and every policy affects each and every Filipino. I think we differ in critical thinking and the role of journalism: we believe that no matter who’s in power, our job is to keep that person accountable. That necessarily means challenging whoever’s in power. We help our leader by pointing out what could go wrong – things he may not see or might not have considered. That is the role of the fourth estate.
Dear Maria Ressa,
Exactly on point, we need journalists to make our government accountable but it is the job of the people (non-mainstream media outlets, bloggers, the social media) to make the mainstream journalists accountable. That necessarily means challenging what is being reported, where your ethics stand and what drives your interest. We help our journalists by pointing out what could go wrong – things you may not see or might not have considered. To provide the people with the information and confidence where the mainstream media failed to do so. That is the rule of the FIFTH ESTATE.
Paid Trolls vs Passionate Individuals
You talked about weaponizing the internet and how the PAID trolls spread misinformation. Clearly you don’t understand how the dark corners of the web work. Let me show you where to start: 4Chan and DarkWeb. Much like our president, it is far from perfect, but man, you cannot deny the authenticity. Immerse yourself and learn that when people are passionate enough, they will go hell bent just to get their voices heard. That is the difference between the Fourth and Fifth estate.
They got “moot”, 4Chan Founder, elected as Time’s most Influential Person of 2008. Despite owning the site for several years, the guy is basically living in his parent’s basement. How on earth could he pay these trolls to vote for him? 4Chan users might have gamed the Time’s poll alright, but they’re no paid trolls. Just because people are behind a mask and getting their voices heard, they are not necessarily paid, they could just be “passionate trolls”.
Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
– Oscar Wilde (The Fifth Estate)
Bots, Algorithms and Virality
Word is spreading in social media that Rappler is struggling right now financially, with FB Page Insights data showing decline in engagements to way lower than what the indie pages are doing. You were quick to dismiss that and assure that Rappler is doing fine, and even better. A quick check on your website stats confirms you are right, but we have to examine which segment you are dominating.
Revenue streams in Search Engine Traffic:
I’m confident majority of your traffic segment is coming from Organic search, probably at least 65%, with lowest from Social Media I assume. Now, organic search (Google search) is purely algo driven, it is said to be composed of at least 200 ranking signals, but the mother of all signals is the PageRank Algorithm — which is the graduate study paper of the Google Founders. Pagerank algo can be broken down into 2 parts: Trust and Citation ; the Trust is the authority and Citation is purely quantity-based. A mixture of the two is what drives the pages in the top results, top 3 captures at least 70% of the clicks. Trust metric has more weight, thus mainstream media outlets have an inherent advantage over the indie ones in Google results due to this nature, anonymity has its price after all. Even that, Google results can be gamed just basing on the Citation metric alone, hence Google bombing — now that is literaly WEAPONIZING folks! The Trust aspect can still be gamed through BUYING/SPONSORED blogpost/links in high authority sites to pass through the link equity (tip: reach out to media who can be bought!). Several businesses thrive based on this model alone.
Losing the Social Media Battle:
Facebook algo on the other hand is much harder to game. Why? Because it relies on human interaction to work. Facebook is a social media platform while Google is a search engine. Social media relies on human interaction and search engine relies on citations. Search engines are more calculated, while social media is relational. Facebook algorithms are based on the quantification of human emotion (love, like, sad, happy, angry), any engagement (human interaction) pushes the post further. So yes, there are algorithms, but it needs a human touch to be manipulated unlike in search engines.
Pages/posts gain traction in social media by STRIKING HUMAN EMOTIONSwhich will drive the engagements and shares to further boost its virality factor. Unlike Google, greater audience reach in facebook is EMOTIONS at work — whether it maybe factual or not. It maybe an algorithm alright, but one that is based on emotions and very difficult to game. Think of how a false bomb threat quickly spreads or this tsunami panic, you don’t need algorithms to spread that! Or maybe we can start a “time to take back the streets” campaign. My GAWD!
Understand that most people already bought into an idea before engaging with it; one that is based on “conscience and faith”. So when we see something that validates that idea (either factual or not), we proceed and shove it on other people’s throat. Thus, when misinformation spreads, that is human nature at work, confirmation bias..Not algorithms, not bots, but passionate individuals who are too lazy to validate! Facebook newsfeed algorithm’s EdgeRank capitalizes on this cognitive bias, our feeds are those most relatable to us — so we read, consume and share that. It is an algorithm, but is based on human nature.
The Difference of Algorithms: FB vs Google
Google’s PageRank is mainly a citation-based algorithm that heavily factors in quantity/trust and thus easier to game through bots. Facebook’s EdgRank is a relationship-based algorithm and relies on human emotions and very hard to manipulate.
Enough with the technicalities and theories. My point here exactly is, if you are doing better in Organic search over Social media then, you are not in the FUCKING position to go BITCHIN around people GAMING ALGORITHMS. Please pardon my French..
Propaganda: Monetization of People’s Emotions, the Sexy Star and the Faceless Revolutionaries
Websites who spread misinformation to monetize the traffic is not a propaganda — it is on the same business as you are on, only they’ll spread anything (whether factual or not) to maximize the revenue stream. The Duterte-supporters are easy target to these monetization techniques. And then you go on ranting like this is one deliberate, well-oiled running Propaganda machine? One that is run by a sexy entertainer?
Oh yes, the propaganda.. take back the internet, take back the facebook campaign? Oh common, anyone who’ve read Noam Chomsky, the MIT professor and radical thinker, knows that propaganda has been here all along, even before Mocha Uson came into play. And it is not the internet propaganda or social media he kept on raving about. In his essay “Necessary Illusions: Though Control in Democratic Societies”, he wrote:
The major media-particularly, the elite media that set the agenda that others generally follow-are corporations “selling” privileged audiences to other businesses. It would hardly come as a surprise if the picture of the world they present were to reflect the perspectives and interests of the sellers, the buyers, and the product. Concentration of ownership of the media is high and increasing. Furthermore, those who occupy managerial positions in the media, or gain status within them as commentators, belong to the same privileged elites, and might be expected to share the perceptions, aspirations, and attitudes of their associates, reflecting their own class interests as well. Journalists entering the system are unlikely to make their way unless they conform to these ideological pressures, generally by internalizing the values; it is not easy to say one thing and believe another, and those who fail to conform will tend to be weeded out by familiar mechanisms
Let me call it the “Rappler Effect”!…
That is why people lost faith in mainstream media in the first place, because people might have detected the bullshit that the mainstream media has been feeding us. Much like any decentralized system (chaotic yet transparent), the internet and the social media is the hardest to manipulate. Why? its power lies directly to the people. And you, a mainstream journalist, is asking to take it back? It was never yours in the first place to take — it is OURS, the PEOPLE, the unheard, the unfunded, the revolutionaries, the Fifth estate.
You need to go back to your drawing boards and have your strategy (intent) checked. Why on hell is it that a singer-dancer who provides “sex advice and sessions in their bedroom,.. with trademark gyrations and near-explicit sexual moves” – your words, not mine – is able to get the mass following and engagement while a team of well-funded elites and intellectuals led by a Princeton Educated CEO could not dare to achieve? Do you realize that the sexy dancer you explicitly discredit, is the same person you’ve incited as masterminding a sophisticated Propaganda Machine? Do you realize how outrageous you sound? But, was it really her? She played a critical role, but it was nothing deliberate or calculated.
In the digital age, information is decentralized, it is available to everyone, Prometheus has stolen the fire of Olympus. And despite how hard you try to discredit and look down to us, despite your intellectual snobbery, people now is not how dumb you think we all are. We smelled the same bullshit brought up by a radical thinker decades ago. People are not dumb, people can no longer be easily manipulated.
In your outcry, you should realize that being smart, reading books and writing good grammar does not give you the license to be heard. Just like in the dark sections of the internet, unfunded faceless people are willing to work together and die for a cause. Titles and education do NOT drive the respect in this arena, the AUTHENCITY of the Intent is what matters. When one is faceless, you have nothing but the idea he represents.
And maybe that is why it’s very hard for you to accept ThinkingPinoy’s rise. How can a faceless persona gain the respect of the people. You missed where to look, you should not be looking for the face behind the mask, you only need to look at the idea.
And yes, when you are surrounded by self-absorbed journalists who are paid to do a job and despite the small following, have the gall to get their Social Media profiles verified — you cannot make sense of the unfunded faceless individuals who fight for an idea. You cannot help but attach motives behind it — Propaganda.
Confirmation Bias: Bots have emotions
We are all slaves of the bias of our culture, environment, education and readings. As factual as you are due to your journalistic background, it does not exempt you from having any bias after all. The only difference is that you “selectively” fact-check things before sharing it. Take Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kanehman’s word for it, the Endowment Effect, which states “people ascribe to more value to things merely because they own them.” An intellectual, however snob, does not have immunity to his inherent human flaws, unless you’re a bot.
In your FEAR CAMPAIGN of “Weaponizing the internet”, you mentioned almost everything in your #HackSociety interview that would validate your stand, but failed to quote a crucial statement from Data Scientist Stephanie Sy which said “But I think the piece they will never be able to mimic is that bots are not connected to real human beings, while real human beings are connected to real human beings. That’s what I think the most effective filter really is.” That’s my exact argument I mentioned previously, that is exactly my point. Why on hell did you not include that?
Lastly, let me give you a taste of your own medicine: Deep Feelings: A Massive Cross-Lingual Study on the Relation between Emotions and Virality, a study conducted about virality and emotions in social media. And guess where the dataset came from? RAPPLER!
Findings? Emotions obviously had an impact on sharing and discussions. Higher broadcast on inspiration, happiness and dominance.
Conclusion: After reading the study and Maria Ressa’s Fear Campaign, I therefore conclude that BOTS HAVE FEELINGS! SAY No to extra-judicial feelings. Bots have rights.
How can you not mention this in your uncompromising fact-based self-righteous Fear Campaign of Weaponizing Series? Anwer: Confirmation bias. With your intellect and fact-based attitude, you are still human after all @MariaRessa, let us welcome your humanity! Embrace it.
The Rashomon Effect: Samurai’s Self-Deception
It is also obvious that we differ in the role of critical thinking and journalism. Much like me, I take it that you believe that you speak for the truth and what is right. This concept can be found in some religious texts. The Koran mentions “those who are wrongful while thinking of themselves that they are righteous.” We both claim to be righteous but only one could be right.
Legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa brilliantly presented this conundrum in his film Rashomon — characters with different backgrounds (the wife, the samurai, the bandit, the woodcutter, commoner, priest) who offer self-serving and contradictory views of the same incident. We always have a tendency to save face, or pursue our own interest even up to the point of deceiving ourselves. Dan Ariely’s work, the renowned Behavioral Psychologist, has proven it countless times. If the honorable samurai was no exemption to that, what more for the journalists? Cognitive bias is a bitch and we are all its slaves.
The Intent: We are all victims
Mainstream media is a business and its job is to make the government accountable while profiting from it and making the investors happy. It might be a passion for you but it is still a job. For us, it is driven by passion, hopes and dreams. Our job is to make the government/journalist accountable simply to make this country better — nothing more, nothing less. That is the difference.
As CEO, you have a business to run firsthand. For us, we only have this country to lean on. That is exactly the reason of the unprecedented social media movement you cannot dare to accept, because we finally have this uncompromising President who is spilling his later years of retirement and peace for the betterment of this country, for the ordinary Filipinos, the unwilling candidate who warned to not get himself elected, a strongman who came weeping and afraid to his mother’s tomb asking for help when the people chose him so. And yes, we will fight for this man, we will defend him like our own blood. Because while you elites are ripe with options, this man’s hopes and dreams is the only chance we have. His dreams are our own. His business is our dreams. And yes, we will protect him, we will protect our dreams.
Despite the theatrics of having yourself called names in this event, you forget that it was you who first labeled us as paid trolls, bots, gamers of algorithm and propaganda machines. So by virtue of Kurosawa’s Rashomon, we are all victims here after all, and we have our own self-serving story to tell. Who’s interest are we truly protecting ourselves from? Who’s deceiving who?
Anonymous Paid Troll
Fourth Estate | Fifth Estate
Mainstream Media | Non-mainstream (Blogs, social media)
Funded | Non-funded
For Revenue | For a cause
Rappler, INQ | Wikileaks, TP, Sas, Mocha, GRP
Intellectual Snob | People
Note to Maria Ressa, I still respect you for what you have done. But you cannot run a religion and a business at the same time for God’s sake. Learn from ThinkingPinoy, Sass Sasot, GRP and others — these people basically invested their free time for a cause, and that is why people trust them more.
Lastly, your team’s intellectual snobbery backfired when they started demeaning people in comments section and discrediting Mocha Uson. Social media is a decentralized antifragile system, the more you hit it, the stronger it gets. As a journalist, your job is not to fight or justify yourself, your job is to keep reporting the facts. Let the people complain and rant about how bad you are doing despite your best efforts. That is the nature of democracy, which gives you the same right to criticize the government as you see fit. Remember, we are all victims here!
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