You’d think the Senate probe on “fake news” would be an undertaking in aid of legislation. Thus the presumption underlying such a probe is that some sort of legislation will be proposed to address the “problem” of “fake news”.
So what exactly is the “problem” with “fake news”?
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One thing that could be noted in yesterday’s Senate hearing on “fake news” is that the cast of characters screeching about this monumental “problem” is a familiar one — led by embattled Rappler CEO Maria Ressa is a bevy of “resource persons” from the established clique of “social media for social good” bloggers and personalities. The so-called disente mob, in short.
There was no diversity in opinion because the members of this inbred clique all sing off the same hymn book and espouse the idea that Facebook and other social media platforms are somehow responsible for the proliferation of “fake news”. It did not seem to occur to these bozos that the algorithms of most social media platforms were designed to merely mirror the tastes and preferences of their users. This means that what gets profile on Facebook newsfeeds, for example, reflect the character of its base of users.
If this notion sounds terribly familiar, it is because it is the same property of a system of government Filipinos had signed up to — democracy. Just like Facebook and Twitter, a democracy produces politicians in the likeness and image of its electorate. Just like democracy had put political power in the hands of the people, social media had, for its part, put mass communications in the hands of the people.
Recall way back when Ressa and those “resource persons” in the hearing were all cheers about the power for “social good” social media accorded the ordinary schmoe. They were all cheers because they saw themselves as the “experts” in the use of these new technology platforms. A bit premature in retrospect. Turns out these “experts” did not really know the true nature of the toys they were playing with. Suddenly these toys started to work against these “experts”. And then, just as suddenly, these toys were regarded as weapons wielded by “evil” people.
That’s a nice story — except that it isn’t true. It exists only in the bewildered minds of this erstwhile clique of “experts” who presumed to own the manner with which these tools could be applied to the ends of their personal enterprises.
These are the same people who conveniently fail to realise that elected officials were chosen by the Filipino people and that information that propagates and spreads all over media were selected by Internet users. They see themselves as “experts” when the elected leaders and “liked” and “shared” information on social media are on their side and as “victims” when the elected leaders and “liked” and “shared” information on social media work against their agenda.
In short, these people — represented by the set of “resource persons” in this recent Senate probe — are a bunch of spoilt brats.
When you sign up to a system where power is decentralised and outcomes emergent, you do not expect to be fully in control of how said system behaves. Both democracy and social media are premised on the notions of “power to the people” and the “wisdom of the crowds”. On that, these crybabies need to reframe their argument and prove that those two notions have become obsolete and, on top of that foundational position, make their case for a change in system that is agnostic of any partisan agenda.
If we feel that the power and wisdom channeled through our democracy does not produce “good” leaders, then we need to challenge the notion that entrusting the selection of those leaders to the people is right. If we feel that the information chosen to be consumed by the broader public is not “good”, then we need to challenge the notion that free access to information dissemination tools is right. But in doing so, we need to ensure that these things are challenged outside of any one person or group’s agenda.
What was revealed in yesterday’s Senate probe is that both sides engage in the same dishonest social media practices and both sides allow their rabid personal loyalties to get in the way of truly intelligent discourse. This is the same revelation that follows several decades of “democracy” under the 1987 Constitution. Like the study of Economics, the underlying assumption that the market (and the electorate) behaves and makes descisions in a rational manner is flawed. Unfortunately, both traditional practices in the “sciences” of economics and politics theory built their theories on that flawed premise as has been revealed in recent years.
The more productive debate then evidently lies in exploring alternative sytems or how best to tweak the existing ones to revert the focus back onto the whole point of this; i.e., the “social good”. Perhaps Facebook should, indeed, be banned in the Philippines as Ressa seems to be suggesting. Perhaps the 1987 Yellowtard Constitution needs to be replaced as the camp of Duterte propose. These things need to be discussed intelligently and not merely labelled as this or that camp’s pet issue.
It comes down to personal accountability. Obviously, the power to choose did not seem to ingrain that ethic in Philippine society. Or, perhaps more likely, we haven’t given Filipinos enough time or tools to sharpen their wits when participating in the application of these tools. All these things need to be taken into consideration and discussed like a mature and modern people.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.