Alamon: For better or worse

ONE of the more interesting news of the past week was the reported plans of online Duterte supporters to migrate to a Russian social media platform. They were reportedly piqued by Facebook’s move to rely on what they perceived to be “Dilawan”-aligned news organizations in identifying online sources that spread fake news. As of posting time, a good number of the online bastions of Duterte supporters have been banned by Facebook. Their URLs cannot be shared on posts, eliciting more anger and vitriol from the DDS camp.

It is a happy online mess that many of us who are not aligned to either camp are happy to witness at the sidelines with our popcorn. For some, it is the long-awaited comeuppance after the DDS camp have dominated the online arena for quite sometime with their swarm methods and trolling ways. The response of the Duterte supporters was quick and somewhat expected. If Facebook rejects them and their brand of “alternative facts,” then they will bring their patronage to another social media platform, one who does not discriminate against their brand of Duterte politics.

It is not the case that Zuckerberg and Facebook suddenly turned “Dilawan.” After the massive data breach compromising billions of facebook users, including millions or so from the Philippines, the social media giant is on a massive PR campaign to prop up its credibility. The company’s first strategy is to finally heed the clamor of those who believe that the internet should be regulated with a quick crackdown on identified purveyors of “fake news.” But according to whose standards should fake news be determined?

Inauthenticity or what we nowadays regard as “fake” is always in the eye of the beholder. From the point of view of non-believers, religious posts are examples of fake news. Does it mean that people should be prevented from professing their faith online? At the risk of sounding like a DDS online firebrand, I actually sympathize with the Duterte brotherhood and their cry of political persecution from the knee-jerk Facebook reaction. I also wonder how the accredited thought police would go about doing their task.

For instance, all this hullabaloo could be traced to the rivalry between traditional news media that operate according to industry standards of fact-checking and editorial supervision among other good industry practices versus the rise of new media stalwarts that gleefully discards all these standards in favor of unbridled and unverified news reporting that the internet technologically allows. Should the internet just be for the former and not the latter as what Facebook seems to indicate in their latest move? When they cite community standards, whose particular community are they speaking from - the white liberal anglosaxon type?
In many of their posts, the Duterte mob always cite the revolt of the citizen journalist/blogger who validate their truth through the number of shares and likes they garner on the social media platform. Finally, information is not anymore filtered through the established channels full of snobbery and gatekeeping. The DDS champions are therefore somewhat correct in looking for another social media platform where they do not feel this kind of discrimination.

Ideally, the rise of DDS online army is a manifestation of the most democratic and anarchic impulses of the internet as a technology. If only they are truly cyberpunks out to turn the online and real world upside down with their radical politics. But sadly, that is not so. Many of them are actually what they now call as “social media influencers,” a euphemism for paid publicists doing the propaganda duties of the same old oligarchic interests in the name of citizen journalist/blogger. But should these attempts in social engineering by paid hacks be prevented in using Facebook or the internet as their platform in reaching their target audience?

The move of Facebook to police so-called fake news is really an admission of a PR crisis but it is a sad misstep that misappreciates their actual reach and influence. The message it sends is that “our community standards” is more important than your right to register your unverified facts or fake news. It is a sign of abdication over their power because Facebook nowadays actually IS the internet because of influence and reach. It should embrace the craziness and the anarchy inherent in the medium. But it seems that Zuckerberg remains reluctant to hold the reigns of this massive unwieldy beast.

For better or for worse, the logic of the internet is anarchy and absolute democratic freedom. It is at once an ideal as well as a performative manifestation of our most democratic impulses. Censorship, as what Facebook and their traditional media partners, is doing right now goes against this logic. Any attempt to place in tight reign this technological and social impulse is bound to fail, just like all attempts to box the indomitable human spirit.

The problem of fake news cannot be resolved by moves to gag those who spew and sow confusion. Instead, it can only remedied by educating those who must be able to discern those who are fooling them and why.