I’ve seen two “reports” about the whole false brouhaha being raised about the reluctance of the Philippines’ Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to start using “social media” to broadcast information that supposedly is relevant to its “constituency”. Self-described “social media practitioner” Tonyo Cruz went as far as calling the CHED a “village idiot” for not joining the social media bandwagon. Cruz cited how that government agency “willingly chooses to insulate itself from its biggest bulk of constituencies” by not opening and maintaining Facebook and Twitter accounts.
What is wrong with this picture?
First of all there is something quite funny about a mob of “social media practitioners” (needless to say, most of whom are Twitter users) presuming to make a call on the rightness of wrongness of a government agency not opening Facebook or Twitter accounts. To a Twitter user (many of whom describe themselves as “Tweeps”), of course it makes “perfect sense” for a government agency — or anyone for that matter — to operate a Facebook or Twitter account. If you were weighing the pros and cons of getting a tattoo, would you seek advise only from a tattoo artist? Of course not. So for the GMANews.tv “reporter” who fired off this report, use a bit of your “reporter” brains to find the irony in this here factoid you “report”:
CHED weathered a Twitter storm of criticism for its slowness in using web tools to reach the public.
Twitter users — sorry, Tweeps — will of course tell you that the best way to get information nowadays is via Twitter. Analyse that.
What we need in this “debate” is an ambivalent party — someone who uses “social media” but does not necessarily see it as a be-all-end-all. That would be me. And what I will add to this “debate” is a bit off-tangent (as one would expect of lateral thinkers such as moi). University students need not be told whether classes are suspended or not. Even in fair weather, university students are always engaged in an internal debate around whether to attend class or not — even as they walk towards their next class. A couple of friends and I once stopped in our tracks just as we were about to take the final five steps to our Physics class, and decided to instead take a 30-minute jeepney ride to SM North Edsa to catch a movie. You don’t need Twitter to make decisions like those when you are in University (then again, perhaps the ADD generation might beg to differ).
Second, if there is something we learned from the Mendoza bus hostage tragedy (which, by the way, is nearing its first anniversary this year on August 23), it is that in times of crisis, we need to take better control of what information about what to do gets out there. Perhaps weather and class suspension advisories are not as timing critical or as life-and-death relevant as police operations. But there is something about rooting for a chaotic din of digital noise at the expense of a reliable single source of truth. When it comes to life-threatening inclement weather, I believe it makes better sense to hand over public advisory to a proper authority that has a specific expertise and qualified specialisation in matters of national emergency. The CHED, the Department of Education, and even MalacaÃ±ang have their own core competencies — which is to develop, implement, and administer policy. Managing crises is certainly not among their best qualities or even part of their scope of responsibility. For that, we have our emergency services and our police and armed forces. There just needs to be a clear definition of categories of public communications, and which agency is responsible for what category.
The problem with “social media” is that it has become an ecosystem for mob mentalities and half-baked or, worse, ill-thought-out pronouncements. When one is limited to 140 characters or needs to compete for attention in rapidly scrolling “news feeds,” it seems that sense is the first thing that goes out the window.
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