It could’ve been the fact that it was election year, but there was little reprieve from noise generated by social media all of 2016. It was like we turned a corner and didn’t know how to turn back.
Probably most distressing is that so many have fallen into the trap of celebrating Facebook likes and shares, equating this with relevant engagement, and insisting that this is “critical mass” and “public opinion.” Fake news sites are built on this premise, asserting relevance by producing un-sourced and un-bylined articles about issues that pro-government Facebook pages, personal and otherwise, are talking about.
These sites are of course shared with abandon, sold as a statement against the biases of mainstream media, and yet so obviously skewed to serve only the President and the government, like they can do no wrong. The push back of mainstream media and its supporters is just as noisy, asserting a moral high ground and insisting on policing the public, invoking protection from “hate” and “lies.”
Layer the noise of this back and forth with the usual suspects of politicos’ marketing teams and government’s non-functioning communications office, the opposition-wannabe’s campaigns and the rabid pro-Duterte support groups, the general disdain for facts and the thoughtless critique based on biases, and you’ve got 2016 in a nutshell: the year when noise took over, never mind critical discourse, never mind important issues, never mind the urgent state of the nation.
Here, the ways in which one hopes to survive 2017: with less of the insanity, more of the hunos-dili, if only so we might go back to discussions based on issues instead of personalities, towards taking on the more critical concerns given, and beyond, partisan politics.
Continue being critical of mainstream news. The constant criticism of mainstream media as biased media is a spillover from campaign season, when those biases were easiest to spot, given the mileage of one candidate over another. Post-elections, media suffered the criticism of its biases, for covering the drug war the way it has, and for failing to always properly contextualize what the President says.
In the beginning, it was easy to blame media. But six months in, it’s also become clear that government has contributed to this problem given its utter refusal to be transparent about data, but also because there is no process of clarification in place – no official statements, no functioning website, no one in control of the information released by Malacañang. Sure, mainstream media has its shortcomings – mainly an inexplicable conservatism and a pickiness as far as taking on issues is concerned, i.e., no one has written about the proliferation of fake news targeting militant Left leaders – but government has encouraged this kind of coverage, too.
It is balancing the blame that should be the order of the day.
Stop sharing fake news sites. There is absolutely no reason to share fake, incredible, unnamed, unsourced news sites, even if you believe that doing so will educate the public about what is false. Sharing these sites means you’re spreading false information yourself, and in the process contributing to the enterprise of filling social media with misinformation and baseless opinion. It is time and space better used spreading actual data and thoughtful opinion that will force us into more critical discussions about the more important issues of the day. What you share says a lot about you, it doesn’t matter who you support, or how many shares and likes you get.
Insist on government transparency. Much of the noise of the past six months is borne of the lack of proper information and data from government, which at this point, is just unacceptable. The burden of transparency falls on the Presidential Communications Office, as well as on the comms offices of the individual departments, few of which have practiced transparency and information dissemination the past six months. When there is no one office that is actually in control of making sure that the information released about government is credible, timely, and relevant, one wonders what the PCO is actually doing, and how it is anything other than a waste of public funds.
Disengage from non-critical discourse. If there’s anything that’s been great about 2016 it’s that we now know what non-critical, unthinking, thoughtless discourse looks like. One now knows that we can choose to disengage from the discussions that come from the blind followers of both President Duterte and Daang Matuwid, because Mocha Uson and Cynthia Patag (and Leah Navarro!), are two sides of the same coin.
Discussions that are either-or, black and white, pro- or anti-, are not ones you want to engage in, and the truth is anyone who believes these dichotomies and falls squarely on either side, does nation no good. Issues are always more complex than these oppositions.
Know your biases. Duterte supporters like to say that it’s okay for them to be biased because they’re not media, but that misses the point. It also absolves them of any wrongdoing. Opinion, baseless and uninformed, is just as dangerous as a biased news article. At least media is forced to deal with the requirements of balanced reportage. An opinion is free for all, can be solely based on lies, and can get away with hate – as we have seen in 2016.
Yes, we must continue to assess mainstream media and point out its biases. But we are the more dangerous enemy when we don’t think our biases matter. Because worse than a biased media is a citizenry that’s blind to its own faults, because then we won’t know to take responsibility for our faults – from sharing baseless opinions, to spreading misinformation.
The best thing about social media is that we can quickly admit our mistakes, take down wrong posts, and apologize. We’d like to see more of that in 2017, from mainstream media, the Mochas, Cynthias, and Leahs, all.
Published in The Manila Times, January 1 2017.