That, of course, is a question that will underlie countless debates over the foreseeable future. Was there a conspiracy to oust sitting President Rodrigo Duterte in the works behind the shadowy non-security of a YahooGroups message forum? Is there really evidence to support sedition charges against Leni Robredo’s camp sitting in those “leaked” emails? Only time and more exposés will tell.
The real point is more around the rather inept — bordering on clownish — way the Philippines’ establishment of esteemed and credentialed “journalists” and “thought leaders” went through an agonising process of denial, then retreat, then besiegement, before their pained responses to the onslaught of #LeniLeaks cheerleaders finally trickled out into the ether. Before then, the manner with which the mainstream Establishment remained imprisoned in their own pomposity and comfy sense of self-importance for weeks while netizens of the Outer Rim playfully ran circles around them hooting out memes, snippets of thoughts on Facebook and Twitter posts was quite a sight to behold.
The irony here is how the supposedly more organised and resource-rich mainstream were rendered disorganised and inutile in the face of this social media spring. Despite their professional accreditations, their hundred-year-old guilds, their frequent kapihans, and the real-world personal networks that bind them, there was no consistent, coherent, and unified view on how to deal with #LeniLeaks that came out of that legacy community of “media practitioners”.
In comparison, the hoi polloi of social media characters that routinely chime into and rally around the handful of memetic pillars (#LeniLeaks being just the most recent of these) upon which the potent challenge to mainstream media is built is all organic, spontaneous, and emergent. Long accustomed to being dismissed as “trolls”, “anarchists”, and all-around troublemakers, the members of this “alternative media” don’t take themselves seriously and, as such, are immune to the infantile personal attacks of the mainstream cabal of private school-educated hipsters and the larger latte-sipping disente crowd they presumptuously associate themselves with. That is the notion of anti-fragility described by the venerable Nassim Taleb — entities that grow stronger and even more virulent in the face of oppositition. They are people and systems that “gain from disorder.”
Members of this “alternative media” — bloggers, Facebook Page operators, and other self-publishers — naturally gravitate around ideas (those “memetic pillars”) not prescribed by traditional top-down patronage. These ideas emerged and coalesced bottom-up from the memetic soup much the same way organic life emerged from the primordial soup of carbon compounds that made up the Earth’s surface as it cooled billions of years ago. Thus, those ideas that propagate — and challenge traditional thought to the annoyance of the mainstream — merely compete for dominance the old fashioned way. Some go extinct, and some survive and thrive.
This is the reason that all these quaint calls to come together to “take back the Internet” or to “not feed the trolls” or to “ignore” or “not engage” them will be futile at best. The “alternative media” community are, by their very nature, not organised — which means more effort to organise against them will not work. What was once the key strength of the mainstream — more capital invested and more resources available — has become a sad liability. The large amount of capital tied up into employing “professional” journalists and “thought leaders” now contributes more to imprisoning rather than enabling the entire industry.
There are many ways forward and there is no shortage of ideas to get around the quandary that mainstream media face today. The “fake news” and the “trolls” infestation traditional media practitioners scream about ad nauseum nowadays are being used more as mere excuses for their faltering credibility and the failing business models of their employers. It is only when this community of dinosaurs pause and ask themselves the real, hard, and confronting questions, will they finally understand what is happening to them and their industry.