We live in a society of fast and instant everything: fast food, fast cash, instant information, and instant communication. It’s not that we like to do things on a shortcut, but we thrive in an environment that’s ten times the pace of what we’re used to back in the day. Through constant use of social media platforms, we adopted and it came with a price that some of us can’t seem to admit – even if it spat in their faces right there and then.
The world in dealing with a technological revolution, and it is making a way where things are getting smarter by the minute. From mobile phones to appliances, even an entire home can be programmed in a way that it makes living easier, convenient and connected. It’s not hard to imagine that a digital community is rising, and it will soon develop into a fortress, whether we like it or not.
Let’s be honest: we cannot live without connecting to the Internet. We can survive, but to what extent? I’m not speaking for everyone because there is still a handful who shuns away from the “modern” world, but for the most of us, being connected is an important cog in our day-to-day lives.
It has been, for the most part, our ritual to check our phones when we wake up in the morning. Reading emails, saying hello to the world through Facebook, video call a sweetheart from across the globe are tiny but important schedules that we make – and we are barely out of bed. By the time we prepare our coffee, our faces would be glued to the screen, fingers swiping up and down to be in the know of things. After all, the internet IS the Information Superhighway and as such, everything – even the kitchen sink – has found its way in every crack.
Humans as we are, we are still creatures of habit. We do things like clockwork, a processed agenda of a series of actions on a normal setting. Take one series, distort another and our day is ruined. It’s like forgetting your handkerchief at home one day when for 20 odd years you’ve been stuffing your pockets with 2 or more at a time. The same can be said with our connected lives: seeing a red light in our modem, an intermittent connection or worse, no connection at all will spell tantrums, the foul language here and there, and we go all Incredible Hulk on our ISPs. Why? I’m sure you don’t need to connect to the Internet to answer that.
Social media is defined by Wikipedia as “interactive Web 2.0 Internet-based applications” where information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks are created and shared. Simply put, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Viber, WhatsApp, WeChat, Instagram and even YouTube are networks to connect with other people, meet new friends, share thoughts, rant, express, communicate, debate and spark conflict, among others.
Wikipedia added that user-generated content is the lifeblood of social networks. Suffice to say, what we put, share and post in our accounts is what keeps their machine running and in turn, make the web interesting. Remove our content and the value of social networks goes down to zero. Without our content, these sites would be nothing more than your plain, boring URL with tons of user profiles. Nothing more, nothing less.
Since then, social networks have become a haven for “corporations, entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations, including advocacy groups and political parties and governments”. They use social media as a marketing tool (hence the term social media marketing), or an extension of their political pamphlet. Social media sites are among the most visited platforms on the Internet: it’s free, it can extend to a wide range of audience, it’s easy to manage, and it’s accessible. It doesn’t get any better than this.
The rise of social media, its popularity, and ease of access spread across the entire human population, regardless of social status, race, sex, education and the like. As long as you have the means to connect to the Internet, know basic computer commands or own a Smartphone, you can get and give information at any given time. But then again, not everything you find on the Internet is true.
Enter freedom of speech. While it is controversial, the principle is also volatile as it can be a center for discussion from opposing factions. Freedom of speech “supports the freedom of an individual or community to articulate one’s opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or sanction.” In other words, it provides a no-holds-barred right to say whatever you want, whenever you want. Freedom of speech is, for some, power and authority, and it is prone to be abused for all the wrong reasons.
Armed with unlimited information, the right motivation, a creative mind and a little push from some unknown force, the Internet can and will be a breeding ground for fake news, conspiracy theories, what if’s, trolls, faux accounts and cyber bullies. Pair these with freedom of speech and the World Wide Web is a circus filled with shapeshifters with little or no ethics to cage them.
Counterfeit users, standalone websites, troll accounts, dummies, whatever you want to call them – they stack like pancakes before, during and after the recent national elections here in the Philippines. Loyalists and supporters of rival political parties have, time and again, blast each other on social media by making up negative stories of their candidates, spin positive ones so that theirs look good, belittle an opposing group, you name it, they’ve done it. For the gullible Juan, they would believe these stories without further investigating if the source is true or not. It’s an innocent move, actually since some will most likely to believe anything that they encounter on the web. They hit like, share and the rest will be like dominoes falling on end.
Miguel Syjuco’s article entitled “Fake News Floods the Philippines” is an eye-opener on the proliferation of fake news amidst the hype brought about by the brazen President Rodrigo Duterte. From stressing fellow journalist Yen Makabenta’s ill-fated column based on a fake Al Jazeera account to real-life accounts that the Philippines “has become a morass” of forged news and dubious personalities, his statement that “what is true, or legal, is no longer important as long as the majority supports it” is spot-on. Who in their right mind would believe that the likes of Pope Francis, Emmanuel Marcon, Angela Merkel, Angelina Jolie, Dwayne Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger would endorse President Duterte? I voted for him, I’m not going to lie, but Duterte Diehard Supporters are sitting on their heads when they told the entire nation that NASA named Duterte as “the best president in the solar system,”
Stephen J.A. Ward of the Center for Journalism Ethics admitted that “a media revolution is transforming, fundamentally and irrevocably, the nature of journalism and its ethics.” Professional journalists are now sharing their once exclusive space with bloggers, tweeters, citizen journalists and social media users, thereby creating a media landscape that is “chaotic” and “evolving at a furious rate.” It is a jungle out there and yes, it is getting crowded.
We are not pulling anybody’s leg when we say that some – not most, but a handful – disregard media ethics and just go about writing a piece just for the sake of creating one. They seldom do background checks, let alone legitimize their sources. They work in packs and at a rapid rate just to get their thoughts, may it be right, wrong or something in between, across the board. At best, they are paid trolls and false prophets ordered to spit half-truths and whole lies. At worst they are mind-controlled citizens, some are political zombies that bleed whatever color their minds are conditioned to bleed. In cases like these, they end up either as a subject of ridicule or the latest meme.
Think of ethics as rules that govern a certain spectrum or something that keeps in line their conduct of the activity. Without ethics, Ward is true when he said that media practitioners are in chaos, but to what extent will it be applicable “for today’s and tomorrow’s news media that is immediate, interactive and always-on?” He continued by saying that the world needs a new set of “mixed media ethics” to keep active as guidelines that will “apply to amateur and professional whether they blog, tweet, broadcast or write for newspapers.”
I’d have to agree with Ward, but not when he opined that “media ethics need to be rethought and reinvented for the media of today, not of yesteryear.” As far as I’m concerned, rules are rules, and they are to be followed regardless of whether you are a journalist, a blogger to someone that just likes to blab about current issues on your Facebook post.
Bloggers, social media managers and even citizen journalists, particularly with affiliation to any administration, need to remember that they still need to abide by the rules. It is their responsibility to let the people know what is right, not what they think is right. Our country is living in sensitive times, and it is distorting the way Filipinos see the real “change” President Duterte had promised. His war on drugs, extrajudicial killings, the appointment of his cabinet are no laughing matter: these are serious issues that need to be cleared out to the public, not to be played and juggled just for them to come out clean to the public. We as Filipinos should work together to make our country a better place but in reality, we’re acting like kids. We spread rumors, stain the names of the innocent, and drag those who need not be dragged.
So the next time you see something “interesting” on your news feed, take time to investigate. Back read a bit, look at the source and understand. Again, the web is filled with wolves in sheep’s clothing and they can pack a bite.
HAPI Bacolod Member
Jearr (pronounced JR) is a product of the University of Saint La Salle with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. He is a book hoarder, loves tech, beer, food, bikes and his 4-year old “mini-me” while living by the meme, ” Curiosity killed the cat; ignorance killed man.” He is Batman is his other life.