Back in the heyday decades of Yellowtardism in the 1980s and 1990s, mass communication was pretty much a one-way street. The ability to efficiently reach a mass audience was a capitalist monopoly — held by those who possessed the means to organise enterprises that could build and operate what today are regarded as conventional broadcast and print facilities (television, radio, and newspapers). The only way ordinary people could put up a challenge to the vast information dissemination machine of Big Media was through conventional street-level protest activism — rallies and pickets, distribution of leaflets and pamphlets, and, beginning in the mid-1990s via text messaging and email forwarding.
Suffice to say, the might of Big Media utterly dwarfed pedestrian chatter. Even the running of so-called “mosquito presses” in the form of school publications and “underground newspapers” were as capital-intensive and also prone to monopolisation by powerful interest groups (in the case of campus newspapers such as the University of the Philippines’ Philippine Collegian and others like it in other big schools, primarily Leftist and Communist elements).
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“Citizen journalism” may have existed before the term was concocted by today’s social-media-beholden hipsters but its practitioners could neither compete with Big Media nor the “mosquito presses” monopolised by Leftists and commies.
Thus it could be said that Yellowtard rhetoric which Big Media almost exclusively broadcast and published in the 1980s and 1990s utterly dominated the airwaves and print media. There was no debate around what was or what wasn’t “fake news” — because there was no other way to disseminate news than via Big Media. And unlike today where, thanks to the Internet and social media, ordinary people regard their ability to routinely challenge “news” and opinion distributed through Big Media outlets, as an entitlement and a right, back in the 1980s and 1990s, Big Media “news” and opinion remained utterly unchallenged.
In short, Filipinos took it for granted that Yellowtard ideology was authentic and correct because, well, it was the only ideology Big Media broadcast. Indeed, even today, in the age of ubiquitous Internet access, high social media penetration and usage, and, as a result of these, commoditised mass communication, the ascendancy of information disseminated via Big Media still remains difficult to challenge. We see this in the way Philippine Mainstream Media has exerted its influence on the positions Western corporate media and Western non-government organisations take on Philippine political issues despite many of the assertions the industry makes about the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte being subject to debate and the object of wide dispute.
Indeed, it is quite telling that even in this day and age, the ability of an opaque organisation such as the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) — an organisation that refuses to subject itself and its doctrine to critical scrutiny — to disseminate not just dubious but downright incorrect information routinely goes unchallenged. In that sense, the liberal ideas and emotional rhetoric of Yellowtards achieved its zenith at a time when ordinary people lacked the tools to directly challenge its wealthy purveyors. With the benefit of 21st Century context, it is easy to see that the rise of Yellowtard thinking happened on the back of the unfair advantage it enjoyed over competing ideas. It is no better than how Catholicism spread — by the sword and by suppressing or overpowering competing ideas.
The fact is, the only people and groups uncomfortable with and driven into a panic by the chaotic nature of today’s Internet-fuelled discourse are those who have traditionally enjoyed the advantage in capital resources to reach a mass audience. That advantage may be gone today thanks to the Internet, but evidently not gone is these people and groups’ outsized sense of entitlement to monopolise the discourse. The notion of “fake news” applied to everything beyond the small subset that it is validly applicable to represents a strawman this entitled group put up to represent everything that threatens said entitlement.
Blocking dissent does not make dissent go away. All this does is blind you to the rise and spread of competing ideas and hasten your failure to respond to its spread effectively. Facebook, for example, is now paying lip service to calls to crack down on “fake news”. Yet, just as nobody foresaw the rise of social media back in the early 2000s, nobody can foresee the unintended consequences of one organisation artificially throttling user behaviour over a massive network such as the Internet within which it is a mere subset. Who knows what Next Big (Unforeseeable) Thing will come up that will start to eat Facebook’s lunch. Something out of the Dark Web? A new platform or protocol for connecting people or distributing ideas? Nobody knows.
You need to know your enemy to fight it. And, often, it takes courage and humility (and a reduced sense of entitlement to a monopoly on righteousness) to commit to getting to know your enemy and competing rather than just whining about the world being “unfair”.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.