By BENJIE OLIVEROS
What has become of us? The internet, and with it, social media, that was supposed to expand the platforms where people could exercise their freedom of speech, provide constructive criticism and have their voices heard on policies, laws, and acts that affect their lives, has become instead a way to suppress this very freedom, to bully and insult others while hiding behind fake accounts, names, and relative anonymity.
Worse, it has become an instrument of those with power and resources to fund professional trolls to bully others who disagree with them. Under the current administration, they were even given a special office with millions of pesos in budget and resources. The sad thing is, it is perfectly within their prerogative if the government would use the Internet and social media to explain and defend its policies and to engage in constructive debate against those who criticize it. But it is another thing if its way of ‘defending’ its policies and actions is by issuing expletives, curses, insults, and threats at its critics.
There are those who disparage activists for criticizing each and every policy of government. (To be fair, activists did commend the government for issuing policies and statements that they agree with; and activists did receive a lot of criticism for it during the early months of the Duterte administration.) But at least activists and progressive groups have been consistent in their principled positions, and they don’t attack anybody personally. Best of all, they are not afraid to show their faces and add their names to their statements and position papers.
The Duterte administration may claim the same: that they show their faces when issuing expletives. After all, President Duterte and his social media spokesperson Mocha Uson issue expletives in-your-face. But therein lies the problem: they curse, issue expletives, get back at their critics but do not explain their ‘principled positions.’ And of course, as the country’s leaders, they should model good citizenship behavior.
There lies the other problem. President Duterte and Mocha Uson have rather emboldened trolls and netizens alike in attacking people they disagree with by issuing expletives, insults and curses. Look at what happened to the lawyer couple that argued emotionally with MMDA enforcers. Yes they were in the wrong. But they do not deserve to be cursed, insulted, and called names. So did other countless social media victims of bullying, cursing, and being called names; they do not deserve the treatment they got from anonymous netizens.
By bullying, these trolls and netizens think that they are being brave; by cursing, insulting and calling people names they think they are being upright. On the contrary, they are being cowards and bullies.
Try engaging in principled debates; try being constructive and compassionate; try putting a face and a name to your comments and positions; try decency; try being human and humane. Then the Internet would not be such a waste and would be a platform to advance free expression and democracy.