Improbability

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Dylan Nolte on Unsplash

There are statistical improbabilities. Most of us are all familiar with that term. These are when statistics come up with results that defy normal statistical patterns.

I, of course, refer to the slew of surveys that have sprouted in the last few months of 2021, especially in the last four. Then, in one month, Marcos Junior jumps from over 20% to over 40%, in just one month and for no earthshaking reason except that he announced his candidacy. He announced nothing new, but he doubled his numbers. Yet, everyone was speculating for several years that he would run.

That is a statistical improbability.

It would not be such an improbability if it were not anchored on an even stranger improbability. One I will call the behavioral improbability. Numbers can change very fast, but the behavior is the slowest ever to change – if at all. That behavioral improbability is so suspect; it makes the statistical improbability connected to it even more improbable.

I have been observing surveys for a long time, some 35 straight years. There were no such political surveys during martial law, nothing of worth, that is. Just one incident triggered an outpouring of bravery while there were tanks and soldiers, yet unexpectedly peaceful. When people are afraid, the truth is the first one sacrificed, compromised, buried – until the fear disappears. Then, the truth erupts, as in people’s power at EDSA.

I read details of a recent survey where I saw presidential ratings of 50:20 in favor of Marcos Junior in the Visayas, where Leni won handily in 2016. It seems behaviorally improbable even if statistical computations may come out with those conclusions. I totally question the results, of course, and in a few months, after the May elections, I believe I will be proven right for my deep doubts.

What can, then, produce such improbabilities, statistical and behavioral? I have some thoughts about that, but I choose to be cautious, not infallible. I can concede the great influence of Marcos, Duterte, Macapagal-Arroyo, and Estrada, not from popularity except Duterte though not at his prime, but money, lots, and lots of money. You can see the money spent, although they will officially claim little of it to have been sourced and spent by any or all of them.

We have witnessed the trolls from 2010, hundreds of thousands of them. Just from Facebook reports about those fake accounts taken down, or interlocking accounts who move as though tightly orchestrated, we understand that their covert owners (covert only because they do not openly admit) will adjust and adapt to new rules – then break them again.

“It is truly a strange and shameful reality that our presidential elections depend on the effective proliferation of lies and money. Because the frontrunner has extensively used Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok to promote himself even without basis …”

In March 2019, Facebook took down the fake account network of the social media campaign manager of Duterte. Facebook took down 200 pages, groups, accounts, followed by millions of Facebook users. As if to prove that they could do it anytime, the fake account network did not stop. In September, Facebook again took down hundreds of coordinated fake accounts with links to individuals in China and in the Filipino military that were interfering in the politics of the Philippines and the United States.

Who among us here believes that their fake accounts and fake news have ended? If they have sustained it for almost six years, we can expect that the lies and fake news will increase and favor Marcos Junior the most. The latest analysis of experts has just reported that, as expected, the one with the most money is most benefited.

It is truly a strange and shameful reality that our presidential elections depend on the effective proliferation of lies and money. Because the frontrunner has extensively used Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok to promote himself even without basis, as subtly using windmills in the Ilocos with which he had no role in setting up.

One day, we will have one of the least performing public officials with a list of achievements as false as his college diploma. Reports on the ground indicate that money is flowing into the pockets of politicians, especially LGUs, trolls, expert digital professionals, and workers in urban and rural poor areas. Politics does not improve with money. On the other hand, it serves to push lies.

“With technology, the poor can go farther than they ever have in the past. But this campaign experience, though we have months to go, shows the opposite trend. Information is used to blind and blight minds, not enlighten them.”

I cannot but accept that the influence of social media is a powerful one. However, until recently, I was half-believing that Internet technology serves as a leveling field between rich and poor. With technology, the poor can go farther than they ever have in the past. But this campaign experience, though we have months to go, shows the opposite trend. Information is used to blind and blight minds, not enlighten them.

It is now more than a threatened presidency; it is reality itself. Order in society is grounded on truth and facts. Laws totally depend on evidence. Religions are anchored on their tenets, their commandments. Our culture rests on our history. Yet, all these are being sacrificed for lies peddled by money and greed.

I had hoped that clarity would emerge from the confusion triggered by Covid. I now realize that whatever my skepticism, my often too critical eye, and a hard-nosed experience over several exciting decades, I managed in the large to hold on to hope, to dreams, to visions. However, that platform of optimism underlying my worldview does not justify the patterns I see. Instead, politics will defy the lessons of Covid and force the pandemic to bring us to our knees once more.

2022 is inside a greater period of turbulence. We all have hopes, but we must stay grounded on hard reality. Trolls and fake accounts cannot vote. Worse, when we are in trouble, they cannot help us; they cannot feed a single mouth. That is why it is, to me, a case of improbabilities, trolls versus warm bodies, fake accounts versus voters. It will be a messy election, and only for the brave.

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