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Is Social Media Trivializing Discourse? Some Perspectives.

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Social media is now so ubiquitous in everyday life that it has already raised problems all on its own. Already, there are talks of social media addiction, the effects of social media on mental health, and problems of access and quality of service of the Philippines’ monopolistic networks. Closest to my hear is how social media becomes an arbiter of facts and a weapon to mold (read: control) public opinion.

As an arbiter of facts, social media is bound to have an impact on what counts as issues, how these issues are formed, and how people respond to them. Public issues are always open to conversation 24/7 (simply post on the comments section) and individual faults easily become public spectacles (like the seemingly constant barrage of scandals that proliferate in the internet). The more important question is if the division between the private and the public is blurring in the age of social media as what would otherwise be classified as personal and private are thrown in the spotlight and used to mobilize hate? We only need to look at Asec. Badoy’s remarks asking VP Leni to drop the basurera act to see an example of this.

What’s more, because everyone could have a take on issues, everyone’s personal biases and values can come under public scrutiny. This should be no problem if values are used as starting points used to orient the analysis of facts to make impassioned claims. Instead, disagreements on policy are viewed as elitism or malice and taken as personal attacks and are responded with claims of universal application of one’s opinion just because one belongs to a supposedly homogeneous group. It is as if being an OFW makes you the mouthpiece of all OFWs, being from Mindanao makes you a mouthpiece of all the peoples in Mindanao, and it is as if being a Filipino makes you the mouthpiece of all Filipinos. The personal has indeed become political.

As an arbiter of facts, social media is bound to have an impact on what counts as issues, how these issues are formed, and how people respond to them.

Still, you can rest assured that the personal attacks hurled against you would wane eventually because matters of national importance have now become but mere triggers in social media without sustained interest and meaningful follow-up. The starting point of fierce discussions are hardened positions unwilling to participate in the long and open wondering (and wandering) which is often the road to Truth. Several months since then, are we still talking about the ethics of a senator whose lover is married? Are the same standards imposed on Yellows demanded from DDS as well? After more than a year of explaining that the Commission on Human Rights deals with acts done by the state, why is the question “Nasaan ang CHR?” still thought of as a valid argument against Human Rights? I fear that we only have had outbursts of emotions and lazy logic – from all parties.

Aside from the rise and wane of trends, another social media trivializes discourse is because of its tendency to created divisions positions in society which are not necessarily real. The shallow, limited, and emotionless way we converse in social media leave much non-verbal cures and ‘suspends’ rules of social conduct. This leaves intent open to assumptions. In social media, I follow a revised version the famous dictum “Never attribute to malice what could otherwise be attributed to stupidity” and instead attribute it to the speaker’s social position. Snarky intellectuals are no better than lazy logic especially in a society where how you say matters as much as how you say it.

My hope that in this new dimension of human existence (as opposed to real life), we would be able to come up with new rules of communication that makes deliberations possible and fruitful.

Everyday Feminism already has an excellent article explaining how telling someone to get educated is comlicated. Surely, one’s social position structure one’s beliefs and a person reared to believe in human rights and the system of checks and balances may have had a different experience than someone who had a relative murdered or whose oppression requires him or her to support a new Leviathan even at the expense of their liberty. It would be severely unfortunate if these differences viewed from ahistorical lenses. In these situations, dialogues are closed because the other side’s perspective is not grated legitimacy by virtue of being Dilawan or ka-DDS and one’s position is thought of as supreme because of educational status or level of patriotism. Opposition to martial law becomes complicity with Maute and condemnation of EJKs come to mean receiving pay from a drug lord. In this situation, mixing lies with truths become symbolism and messenger is rendered infallible.

Finally, a comment on what Asec. Mocha calls presstitutes and their employers. A common comment during the times I do check the comments section of facebook (read: hell) is that mainstream media is biased. Chomsky’s Necessary Illusions have already provided an extensive discussion on media, its relations to the statues quo and its seeming conflict with the state. But my concern here is much shallower. My concern is that some sections of our media has become sensationalistic because of click-based revenues. Titles should be able to convey the thought of the article and, while should draw interest, should remain fair to the person or institution being reported. Sure, there is area for improvement but this does not mean that media practitioners are necessarily sensationalistic, biased, or motivated by an intent to overthrow Duterte. The system requires a balancing act between profits and journalism. Calling the journalistic establishment out could serve as a check to the 4th estate.

If there is any good to all this, it is that we are already having conversations about conversations. Social media itself is being evaluated for its limits and possibilities. My hope that in this new dimension of human existence (as opposed to real life), we would be able to come up with new rules of communication that makes deliberations possible and fruitful.

Photo from screenshot of http://www.facebook.com

Yvan Ysmael Yonaha (@yvanyonaha) is a Sociologist and Philippinist. Yvan holds an AB Degree in Sociology from UP Diliman and is currently working in his thesis for MA Philippine Studies. He is currently an instructor in the Department of Social Science of the University of the Philippines – Los Banos. Follow him on TwitterGoogle+Academia.edu or Facebook.

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