Social media “experts” like most Rappler “journalists” and “influencers” like Noemi Dado, a.k.a. @momblogger, don’t have tech backgrounds. Yet they contribute so much noise to discussions about subjects like these. When will people like, say, Manila Bulletin Tech Editor Art Samaniego really weigh in on the discussion more assertively?
In a Recode interview, for example, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa told Kara Swisher of her brief encounter with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg…
We signed all these things, but one of the things that was open to everybody, I said, “Mark, 97 percent of Filipinos on the internet are on Facebook.” I invited him to come to the Philippines because he had to see the impact of this. You have to understand the impact, impact, things that journalists want to do. He was frowning while I was saying that. I said, “Why, why?” He said, “Oh well. What are the other 3 percent doing, Maria?”
That’s Ressa in her usual form, drumming up her favourite narrative of how a “weaponised” Internet is shaping Philippine politics. Nobody, not even the Philippines’ foremost tech writers seem to be stepping up to challenge this notion — even to at least propose that, perhaps, not all Filipinos on social media are participating in political activity.
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A Twitter user suggests some lines of investigation to fact check Ressa’s assertions like inquiring on what metrics Ressa actually used to define Internet penetration in the Philippines. “A global study was made, only 40% of Internet [is accounted for by] human traffic, 30% are good bots (crawlers),” she points out. It does not require a lot of research to begin an intelligent discussion that balances the drivel Ressa talks up with the suckers all over the world she manages to get herself in front of. It only requires one to ask the right questions.
Indeed, capturing a cross-section of social media chatter amongst Filipinos does not require expensive equipment. In fact, facilities for doing this are free and abundant. For example, the following shows what Filipinos are talking about on Twitter as of this writing…
The above data supposedly represents chatter amongst users located in Makati City, the Philippines’ most affluent city and its premiere financial district. Yet one can easily see that this chatter does not involve anything very intelligent or even remotely related to politics. And these are elite users in chi chi Makati City no less.
To assert that social media impacts elections as powerfully as Ressa suggests is quite premature given that very little scientific scrutiny has been applied to the sampling methods so-called social media “experts” use to arrive at these conclusions.
An even better hypothesis to test is the possibility that Ressa and cronies of her ilk like Dado drum up the dubious importance of social media in Philippine politics because they are, themselves, in the business of social media influence brokering. As I wrote in a previous article, this confusion around whether Ressa is a “journalist”, an “activist” or even a CEO is at the core of her credibility as a self-appointed “expert” on all things to do with the Internet.
Ressa and her cronies have fatally-tainted the profession of journalism by engaging in this insidious campaign to raise their profile as “activists” fighting for “press freedom”. They are no longer acting as journalists and, instead, putting forth more of an activist brand. Indeed, to those unblinkered by this crooked song-and-dance, “fighting” for a “cause” within which one has a financial interest in is a conflict of interest. Rappler and the New York Times are essentially reporting on an issue that involves an aspect that they have a potential for financial gain in positioning favourably. They are not acting in the public’s interest in this instance but in their own with an inherent intent to profit financially.
Conflict. Of. Interest.
This goes to the heart of everything that is wrong with governance in the Philippines as manifest in the nature of its politics. Everyone has a vested interest in a political outcome and, evidently, Maria Ressa is not exempt from this game. Conflict of interest is a red flag any auditor worth her salt would instinctively pounce upon. Drivel loaded with technobabble such as what Ressa and Dado add to an already unintelligent social media “debate” on “fake news” would normally rub real technology professionals and experts the wrong way. Why aren’t these qualified professionals challenging what Ressa, Dado, and all these other snake oil spruikers are infesting the Net with?
It is ironic that con people like Ressa and Dado enjoin everyone to be “vigilant” and challenge every idea we stumble upon online. The fact is, their unqualified assertions and conclusions forged within their little social media echo chambers enjoy an almost infallible ascendancy within their little cliques. People who are qualified to confront them and say “hang on a minute…” are the ones who are letting Filipinos down and allowing misinformation to propagate and the most powerful media corporations to be complicit in these vast con operations. Even “Fact Check” demigod Ellen Tordesillas was caught pontificating about her craft despite lacking a robust working definition of fake news! One wonders how these people sleep at night.
If there is a sector of society that really does need to take back the discourse, it is the small community of real and qualified subject matter experts. We have, for too long, surrendered our space to shrill “activists”, “journalists” of dubious motivations, and “influencers” who are mere minions of dishonest consumerism. If we want real and intelligent debate, we need to be more intelligent in the way we participate in what, otherwise, is the wondrous platform for free inquiry that is the Internet and all its applications.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.