Blogging since 2008, along with a mother who’s been doing it since 2007, our policy for the comments section has always been clear: no murahan, no takutan. As owner of the blog, you decide where that line is drawn, and you’d be surprised that in fact that line is very clear.
And no, it isn’t as simple as disapproving comments that use cuss words – sometimes the mura is not directed at anyone, as it is about frustration and anger. And sometimes the comments that have no cuss words, no kabastusan, but in fact miss the point, are the ones you’d really rather delete; better sense of course dictates that you shouldn’t – even those with comprehension problems have a right to free speech. Besides, you can always ignore those comments.
Moderation and discernment
This is why it came as a surprise that Rappler.com has made a big deal about its new policy to moderate the comments sections on its website because of the amount of hate they’ve apparently been receiving. This has prompted them to create a campaign called #NoPlaceForHate, which is contingent upon their announcement that from here on in, they are going to start moderating their comments sections.
To which one can’t help but ask: why are you only doing that now?
Long ago, when I was writing for GMA News Online with Howie Severino as my editor, the comments section on a piece on Piolo Pascual became site of bullying that the article itself was taking a stand against. I remember being gladly surprised that an editorial decision was made to turn off the comments section of that article altogether – it’s the kind of call that only an editor with a good sense of audience behavior would know to make, on a case to case basis.
One realizes that moderating the comments sections of opinion blogs and media websites goes without saying. Of course it requires discernment, which requires an amount of time as well. There will be cases when anger might actually kick-off a productive discussion about the issue at hand; there might be instances when the person expressing frustration with curse words is open to a conversation. Of course there will be times when you realize the discussion is nothing but a dead-end.
Excess and tolerance
Which brings me to a second question: why is Rappler making a big deal out of this editorial decision to moderate its comments section – complete with a campaign to boot?
Because none of this is new. Commenters, anonymous and otherwise, have always cut across social class and language, which dictate the kind of articulations one might encounter. To me at least, the current landscape of social media is not unique to these times. In fact, if all these years you were able to exist on social media and the internet without having to deal with a tang*namo here, an accusation of being bayaran there, then you’ve obviously been existing in an echo chamber, limited to the network of your social class, where there ain’t a lot of disagreement.
Which is why a full-blown campaign seems a bit too excessive an exercise for what is an editorial decision that should’ve been made years ago.
An August 29 article though answers this question. In “#AnimatED: War has come to our conversations,” Rappler details what they are waging a war against – other than hate of course.
For one thing, it’s a war against what they paint as an anonymous mob who are on a “rampage.” They also connect the dominance of this “Malicious, hostile and offensive people” to one President Duterte, who “has not hidden his penchant for profane language and routinely dishes out kill warnings. He has shown little tolerance for criticism and answers back with threats. In doing so, he has set the tone for our national conversation. Anger and violence in our discourse have edged out civility.”
Going to war
And so it seems Rappler.com is going to war, not just with a mob they are apparently meeting for the first time, but also with the President himself, who they blame for bringing the discourse to this point of no civility.
It seems important to remind us all that in fact Rappler.com itself has always believed in this “mob.” Except they were calling it by another – more “civilized” (?) – name: “the crowd.”
The idea that it is the crowd that decides (Ressa, 2012), and that there is “wisdom in the crowd” (Ressa, 2013), was how Rappler.com sold itself as “new” and “better” when it first came out.
In 2013, Ressa was giddy over the fact that 20% of its content is contributed by the public: “I think that’s the model for the future. It’s collaborative. I like this world. Because that’s always been the way I am. I never felt one person or one organization had all the answers. And if you can get a mechanism that can actually harness collective wisdom, why will you not?” (Homegrown.ph, 1 Feb 2013)
In 2014, Ressa would talk about this collective wisdom as something Rappler.com could measure using a mood meter, a crowdsourcing tool that decides “the top 10 stories (with the most number of votes) and the crowdsourced mood of the day.” To her, this was important for a country like ours “Where institutions are weak and corruption is endemic, we can capture the zeitgeist of a frustrated society, push action and help build institutions bottom-up.” (Asia-Research.net, Apr 2014)
Silencing the “crowd”
But what happens when what that mood meter measures is nothing but anger? What happens when the institution that the crowd criticizes is Rappler.com itself? What happens when the crowdsourced mood of the day is one that is frustrated, not so much about society, but about the website that’s lived off crowdsourcing all these years?
Because Rappler would be hard put to differentiate between this “mob” that they want to silence on their site, and the crowd whose “wisdom” through emotions they’ve put on a pedestal all these years. The present crowd believes – as all crowds do – that they hold an amount of wisdom; now they also feel empowered to articulate their anger and frustration at mainstream media, speaking on their own terms.
If anything, all #NoPlaceForHate reveals is Rappler’s own limitations: all this time, they only cared for their “crowd.” And now that the more dominant voice is a crowd that is not “theirs,” a crowd that is angry and frustrated and absolutely critical, instead of acknowledging this towards “pushing action,” the decision is to silence this crowd altogether, with a campaign to be carried by the Rappler crowd no less!
That’s the thing with “new” media. At some point, it just gets old.
Published in The Manila Times, September 1 2016.