Our pain or gain

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo via Wikimedia Commons

“Hate speech in social media has been shredding the moral fiber of the nation. It motivates violence and destabilizes social glue and forbearance.”

I saw these lines in an article I recently saw in Rappler, written, I believe, by Val Villanueva. I am happy that the attention on hate speech in particular and disinformation in general, is emphasized and sustained because both hate speech and disinformation will be around for a long time.

At the same time, the changing of the times, from dictatorial, monarchic, and autocratic governance for many countries to democracy, especially those with the most powerful economies, necessarily changed the nature of the noise in the world. From no noise, or none that contradicted the ruler, to free-wheeling freedom of speech stirred up the hornets’ nest.

Having been disturbed, technology then stepped into the picture to send the noise spinning around the world with unbelievable speed. The electronic world’s capacity also multiplies so fast that the volume of data once stored in a huge building is now only a fraction of giga-byte SD (Secure Digital) cards.

It is now a free for all as far as noise is concerned. I am not talking only about news as we defined it before but all bits of information – and disinformation. The volume is crazy, as crazy as the speed of distribution.

We cannot blame the messenger for the murder of the facts and the truth. The main messenger today is social media because it is the fastest and the most direct; plus, it can accommodate anyone. Mainstream tri-media, or radio, television, and print, had its days but the competition brought about by human beings with more freedom and rapidly advancing technology is simply overwhelming.

Some countries have autocratic leaderships doing what they can to contain the noise from their citizens. The key factors they try to control are, of course, the Internet and social media platforms. In their countries, they are succeeding to a point. I doubt, though, that control is the right strategy. It always works for a while when the leadership is in near or absolute control. In time, though, the contained noise may be the ammunition of an implosion.

Their problem, and ours, too, if we move towards control, is that digital technology is the platform for communications technology and almost all types of technology. Defense technology, medical technology, financial technology, systems technology managing air, land, and sea travel, power distribution, and much more. When we constrict one field, we slow down other fields as well.

Disinformation, unfortunately, is a critical factor in generating anger and hate. It is also the end product of billions who have inner resentments that defy being bottled up indefinitely. Distorting facts and the truth will necessarily provoke the other billions who believe in those facts and the truth. The distortion threatens the harmony of all relationships involved.

Hate speech is not created by social media. Instead, hate is created inside the person and communicator. Social media is a facilitating factor. And inside social media will be people and groups who will be like support systems to those with hate in them.

“Disinformation, unfortunately, is a critical factor in generating anger and hate. It is also the end product of billions who have inner resentments that defy being bottled up indefinitely. “

In nations where freedom of speech is a human and a Constitutional right, the idea of control or censorship is the last resort, if at all. We will be able to witness the most intense conflict between facts and truth on one side and fake news and outright lies on the other. From them, we can learn the more technical lessons rather than the moral ones and see who wins.

The challenge might be greater in the Philippines, though our technology may lag a bit. Unlike governments in developed nations, our government may not be so committed to facts, the truth, and transparency. The formal engagement by the government with bloggers and even those that have openly distributed pro-government propaganda already signals that they will be following a clear line in their reporting. The news and information reporting patterns will be obvious in a few months, including the slants.

It is not as though there had been no policy to keep the news and related information friendly to the government. We had 14 years of that already, from 1972 to early 1986. It is too early to tell if the son will follow in the father’s footsteps as far as media and propaganda are concerned. We can be hopeful, but disinformation driven by resources and authority can be as effective as containment.

These are hard times for the poor and the almost poor. I hope that alternative media will cover the information about their plight well, even if such news is negative. Shrinking purchasing power, unaffordable food prices, rising utility prices, and many businesses’ difficulties are important to monitor.

Disinformation and hate speech will not ease the suffering of those in want and fear. They will only aggravate it. Movies made in Malacañang or by martial law storytellers will not make rice P20/kilo for either pro- or anti-Marcos forces. The controversy will distract them for a while – then they have to go to the market to buy rice.

“Social media is a powerful trigger for our own personal issues to reveal themselves. We can learn from disinformation and hate speech our level of ignorance, intellectual laziness, emotional immaturity, and inner resentments.”

Social media is a powerful trigger for our own personal issues to reveal themselves. From disinformation and hate speech, we can learn our level of ignorance, intellectual laziness, emotional immaturity, and inner resentments. More than being caused by social media, our ignorance and resentments simply find a welcoming medium of expression through them.

Our societal leaders, consequently, bear great responsibility for addressing our ignorance or inner hate. The more noble ones will design ways to mitigate and reverse our weaknesses. The more greedy ones will exploit our weaknesses, feed and exacerbate them, and further disable our capacity for intelligence, empowerment, and harmony.

But then again, ultimately, it is our choice, our pain or our gain.

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