PGTW: Someone Needs to Take Internet 101

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 19 September 2013, Thursday

Someone Needs to Take Internet 101

Vice-President Jejomar Binay recently complained of being harassed by his political enemies on social media over his botched attempt at negotiating an end to the Zamboanga conflict with Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari.

Netizens on Facebook and Twitter decried Binay’s “meddling” in the Zamboanga crisis by contacting Misuari whom Binay says was his classmate at the University of the Philippines to arrange a ceasefire. Binay’s attempt at forging a “peaceful settlement” failed, and was perceived by many to be a positioning for a presidential bid in 2016.

Online commenters called him epal (attention-seeking). The Internet was flooded with pictures of his “epal” relief goods for Zamboanga – blue drawstring bags with the Vice-Presidential seal on them and the words “Office of the Vice-President” and “Jejomar C. Binay” in white.

Typical of the comments was this one, by an anonymous guest on the webpage of another daily newspaper: “Bakit ka po pumunta roon at namigay ng groceries na may nakasulat na malaking pangalan nyo. Sana kung pinamigay mo na lang na walang label mas ma-appreciate pa ng nakararami.”

It is unknown whether Binay’s move to contact Misuari was authorized by President Benigno S. Aquino III or not; the Vice-President told media sources that he had spoken to the President about it, and that the President even expressed concern about his safety in Zamboanga.

Be that as it may, many Filipinos thought Binay’s gesture inappropriate and ill-timed, especially since it seems to have been done without official sanction, placing military and civilian lives at a degree of risk.

When another news institution asked Binay to respond to criticism that he did this to further his 2016 agenda, he replied that the reason he announced his presidential ambition in advance was because “I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t like hypocrisy.” He insisted that this was not about 2016, but that as a human rights lawyer, he felt “obligated” to give protection to “the hostages and civilians.”

Binay claimed that negative posts against him on Twitter and Facebook are black propaganda from just one group whose people are using different accounts to make it seem that many share the same poor opinion of his self-appointed involvement in the tense Zamboanga situation.

But doesn’t Binay know how many people use the Internet? The Philippines was ranked eighth in the world for Facebook with 33.6 million users (as of end-2013) and tenth for Twitter (as of August 2012), despite only around 30 percent of the population being able to access the Internet.

Binay seems to be suggesting that at least in this instance, the social media users who posted contrary remarks are hacks paid to attack him. Does he mean, then, that the Filipino people have no opinion of their own? That any post against him is propaganda and not legitimate beef?

One young writer said that Binay “doesn’t seem to understand that the Internet is the biggest free forum ever.” Other indignant commenters said they did not receive any payment for their posts. Said Web Webster, “Di ako nabayaran Sir, sa totoo lang talaga mali ang pakikialam Sir.”

The power of the Internet to spread information and calls-to-action cannot be overemphasized. People use social media to discover and share the latest news, discuss and analyze current events, and move each other to action. The Luneta March Against Pork last month that drew thousands of people was organized on the Internet, with the initial push given by one courageous lady.

To say that only one group is behind the unflattering comments, and that they were paid to say them, is to be blind to the reality of people’s opinion and does not become a true leader who should listen to the people and appreciate their feedback rather than harping on his own erroneous interpretation of a phenomenon.

Neither should blame be placed on the Internet. The tendency of tech- and communication-ignorant Philippine lawmakers is to enact legislation to control the medium, not realizing that it is only a tool and in itself has no power to initiate change in and transform society.

It will be to the detriment of the Vice-President’s and other politicians’ future ambitions if they continue to remain clueless about the Internet, what exactly it does, and who uses it as a tool to shape the way they believe the country should be governed – no less than the Filipino people.

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The Philippines Graphic magazine is holding its annual awards night, the Nick Joaquin Literary Awards (NJLA), tomorrow, September 20, at the Ramon Magsaysay Center. This year’s edition of the event is dubbed “Rock the Word.” Awards will be given to the winner and two placers of their Short Fiction competition and to the Poet of the Year, the first time such a recognition will be given. ***

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