If former President Fidel Ramos has already died, what business does he have resigning as special envoy to China?
Ramos, of course, is still very much alive despite reports of his supposed death that were spread all over social media recently. But the viral stories about Ramos’ death once again highlighted the problem of online rumor-mongering—and taking as good as you can give.
Recently, the Senate committee on education headed by Senator Bam Aquino decided that it would look into the proliferation of fake news and trolling on social media. I don’t know what prompted Aquino to start his latest investigation, especially since he himself has problems with legitimacy, having sold himself to the voting public as a knockoff Ninoy Aquino, right down to his trademark thick-rimmed glasses.
Because it would look just a little loopy for the Senate to look into the proliferation of fake news sites and online trolling, Aquino’s committee said what it really wanted was “to determine how schools are educating and developing students regarding responsible social media use.” Aquino even filed a resolution (Number 173) to that effect.
I can’t tell what new laws Aquino wants to craft with his new investigation, unless he intends to somehow infringe upon the freedom of speech by setting rules on what people can and cannot say online. Indeed, some have hinted that Aquino is really speaking for those who want to reclaim social media as a platform for the elite and to kick out those who have been “abusing” it in order to push a political agenda that is not to the elite’s liking.
In a post on Facebook, lawyer and press freedom advocate Trixie Cruz-Angeles explains Aquino’s possible motivation:
“My problem with [Aquino’s investigation] is that it seems to be initiating a new restriction on the freedom of speech and a restriction that seems to consider only partisans [of President Rodrigo Duterte],” she wrote. “The examples cited by Senator [Leila] De Lima, for instance, are the angry responses to Agot Isidro, Noynoy Aquino, Ramos, and, of course, herself. There is no mention of the angry speech directed at the president or his [own] supporters.
“It also seems an admission that in the cacophony of public opinion, [Aquino and his sympathizers are] acting in a fit of pique —in Tagalog, pikon—having lost the social media battle where they are often outshouted. They find little audience and even less support, facing a wall of angry people called Dutertards. And so they claim the hurts we all feel and rise to allegedly defend against these hurts, when the fact is, they’re losing players in a game and they want to change the rules midstream.”
Following Cruz-Angeles’ reasoning, what Aquino really wants is to bring back the social media of old, where only the Yellows dominated the news and where the trolls were all in the employ of the government. With the democratization of internet and social media access, leading to the rise of Duterte partisans as the dominant social media group, Aquino and his old Yellow gang now want to somehow regain control of the situation.
But then, I wouldn’t worry too much about Aquino and his new investigation. After all, the last probe he initiated that I recall was one that was supposed to look into the problem of slow internet connections in this country.
That investigation began in a bang of hype, but ended in a whimper of nothingness. Internet service is still absurdly slow and there was really nothing that Aquino’s probe contributed to solving the problem.
Personally, I think that the government should stay out of social media, except when it intends to enforce rules that apply to the real world, not just the virtual. For instance, people should still be punished for libeling or slandering other people or for attempting to destabilize the country, incite rebellion or flout the law.
If those who spread misinformation are hurting other people or their reputations online, they must be made answerable for the offense. And as far as I know, they can be made to do so under existing cyber-crime laws.
But trolling and spreading misinformation online should not really bother politicians like Aquino, who knew of and even participated in the efforts of the previous administration to use social media to sway public opinion. And they used government funds, too, to ensure that massive cyber-ops like those conducted by Ricky Carandang succeeded.
In the end, unless private persons and reputations are harmed and government is being destabilized, I don’t think Aquino should try to somehow regulate social media. Politicians like himself and his Yellow confederates, of course, should not take offense at the barbs they receive, being fair game as public officials.
As far as the denizens of social media are concerned, I think they can be trusted to discern fake news from the legit. And if they can’t, it’s not the government’s job to find out for them, because it cannot infringe on the constitutional guarantee of free speech.
Having said that, I believe Ramos will outlive many politicians who are much younger than him. Perhaps he will outlast even those who cannot stand being on the receiving end of trolling and disinformation, for a change.