Monday ∗ 16 Jan 2017

Who’s afraid of a yahoogroup?

COMMUNICATIONS Secretary Martin Andanar, that’s who.

It’s still unclear to me what he thinks his office should be doing, but it sure continues to do very little towards actually providing the public with correct, proper, and urgent information.

Instead it’s been revealed that Andanar is doing this: listening to the pro-Duterte noise on social media, printing out “information,” and making it an urgent and important concern because OMG! it has gone viral.

And what is it exactly? Well, screencaps of YahooGroup messages, with email addresses and names of anti-Duterte personalities, but also some messages that seem to have come from the staff of Vice President Leni Robredo. Reading through these messages, all of it seems harmless enough, and honestly, any destabilization plot that happens on a yahoogroup—one that is so easy to hack—should not be taken seriously by government.

Ah, but of course Andanar takes it so seriously!

On January 8, he said: “It has really become a national issue. I said even before it becomes a national issue, as one of the President’s men, I am concerned about this. I need to know about the veracity of the reports.” (Philstar.com)

On January 9 he said: “Number one order of the day is to check the veracity of the document; kung ito ba talaga ay bonafide Yahoo conversation, at number two, kung bonafide siya, kung ito ba talagang personalities ay kasama nga, kung sila ba talaga iyun.<…> This is a process na ang makakaalam lang nito, ang makakapag-imbestiga ay mga online forensic experts. Makikipag-tulungan na rin ang Yahoo.” (ABSCBNNews.com)

It is of course no surprise that Andanar has gone to town on this issue based on inexplicable premises and unstable assertions, making a mountain out of a molehill—and wasting public funds while he’s at it.

Andanar exaggerates
What one will never understand is how a Communications Secretary could be so terrible at communicating—Andanar does not choose his words well and in the process, he reveals that he’s only really listening to the President’s followers who kicked off this whole “controversy.”

So, to Andanar, this is actually a “national issue.” And yet one wonders what his definition of “national” is exactly. Because “national” is highly arguable when what you’re looking at is something that’s only happening online. And no matter what Duterte followers believe, online noise can never be a measure of what’s important on a “national” scale. What happens on social media can be manipulated by the right people, with money to spend. What happens in real life, on the ground, can never be measured by what is trending on social media.

We expect the Communications Secretary to know this.

Andanar also says that he wants to know the “veracity of reports.” But what reports are these? The ones that come out on the fake news and aggregate websites that have no bylines, no sources, no owners? Or the ones that appear as social media statuses and blog non-reports of known Duterte supporters? But even that data needs to be verified given the tendency to merge facts with opinion. To unthinkingly consider those as “reports” just proves that Andanar himself knows not what he’s looking at.

Then he says that he believes these exchanges could “lead to destabilization” and yet it is unclear how it could. The man called Ted, in his series of messages, merely asks for sustained protests against President Duterte, calling on him to resign; the other message from a Pete Silva only talks about how to respond to the campaign against the VP, and is not at all about unseating President Duterte.

The Ted messages, all dated November 2016, have already been proven ineffective: anyone who went to the November rallies would know that no chants, calls, or placards asking the President to resign dominated any of these gatherings–-not even that one where they insist VP Leni was present, even as there is no proof she was at the November 30 rally at all.

And really: all Presidents I’ve known my adult life, including those I’ve voted for, have had their share of “Resign!” calls.

President Duterte deserves no better, no matter what Andanar thinks.

Andanar’s blindness
For Andanar to go to town with this, for him to unthinkingly assert that government will do online forensics on this, like it won’t be a waste of public funds, is so telling of his own blindness, his own cluelessness, his own complicity in keeping the public confused and distracted from what it is government is actually doing–-good and bad.

And while he distances himself from those who stand against VP Leni, he also asserts that: “As leader of the opposition, she (Robredo) has the moral authority to talk to her ranks who are noisy in social media to respect the mandate of the President.” (Philstar.com, January 8)

That’s well and good, were Andanar himself not amiss in taking to task the President’s supporters for the kind of misinformation, hate, and violence they do continue to spread online. Because while Andanar is busy talking about doing online forensics on a yahoogroup, pro-Duterte pages and accounts on Facebook continue the process of silencing pages and accounts critical of the President, consistently and constantly keeping up the barrage of threats of violence against those who speak up against government policies and decisions, promising to take down websites, and now even enjoining Duterte followers to submit information on critics’ families and addresses—the better to scare them with.

One wonders when Andanar will read these accounts, look at this data, and do online forensics for the public good. Because what the pro-Duterte supporters are doing to anyone at all who disagrees with them, actually makes the yahoogroup in question look like kindergarten.

Ah, now we know why the latter is all Andanar can take on. ***

Previously published in The Manila Times, 15 January 2017.

Posted in: bayan, gobyerno, komentaryo, pulitika, social media

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