THERE is so much vitriol spilling out in cyberspace that one has to wonder if we a have already lost our sense of shared self, or “kapwa.”
Facebook pages are being mass-reported and taken down. Anonymous accounts are busy mass-reporting posts and accounts that are critical of political personalities, even as they are equally preoccupied with propagating libel and character assassination against those on the other side of the political fence.
Public office has always been a fair game for public criticism. However, the boundaries of political criticism have been defined as those that are within acts that have direct implications on the performance of public duties. That is why taking bribes or coddling illegal gambling and drug syndicates, or having unexplained wealth stashed in properties named after dummies, are legitimate issues and are fair targets for public condemnation.
However, as civilized members of society, there is an added requirement that criticism be focused on acts, and not on persons. The actions of individuals, and not their physical attributes or disabilities are what should be revealed for public scrutiny and criticism. It is fair to call an act as idiotic, but not to frontally call out someone as an idiot.
Private sins such as having a lover becomes an issue that should take a back seat and can only take a central role if such has undermined the performance of a public duty, or is in fact a tacit violation of a right or a law, such as when the lover is married which turns the public official into an adulterer or a concubine. Having alternative lifestyle, such as being gay, is not an issue when the affair does not compromise public duty, or infringe on the right of another, for the simple reason that being gay or lesbian is not a crime in itself.
What is being laid out here are the rules of fair public criticism that enjoin citizens to focus on conduct in relation to the promotion of a public good, and not to turn the act into one that could be the justification for slander and character assassination that only satisfies the intention to ridicule and shame.
Nevertheless, Philippine society is too personalistic, and has used the anonymity of rumor as a powerful weapon for social control, particularly by ordinary people in relation to those who hold power. It is therefore easy to turn criticisms into an orgy of vilification, mostly from anonymous sources. This has found a perfect nesting ground in cyberspace, in social media such as Facebook and Twitter, where it is easy to launch personal attacks from the protection of invented names, effectively turning mousy and nerdy netizens into libelous monsters. It is this context that spawned trolling as a political activity taken up not only by ordinary citizens but even by elected politicians, for it is not farfetched for an elected congressman to take up a cryptic name and launch vitriolic attacks on critics.
Some trolls are paid. Others do it for fun. And others are sincerely doing it as part of their political idolatry.
As someone who has been the object of trolling, I have earned enough credentials to offer a comparative analysis.
I have been trolled by Grace Poe supporters when I filed a disqualification case against her. I have also been trolled by Duterte supporters, and was even threatened physically in the period before the elections when I was critical of the then candidate, now President.
The attacks were unpleasant.
But the attacks mostly zeroed in on me, my arguments, and my person.
Poe and Duterte trolls have rarely ventured into my extended family, if at all.
Such limits have been breached on a larger scale in the trolling I am getting from Robredo supporters, who ironically comes from a political class that has made it a point to impress on us that they are the true owners of morality, and has the audacity to call themselves as the decent crowd.
Robredo trolls have perfected the art of implicating blood lines, of including my relatives in their takedown.
It is also the pretentious nature of the Robredo crowd, who have made it their trademark to parade themselves as the guardians of morality and decency that easily made them walking exhibits, if not of hypocrisy, then of inauthenticity.
And no one can be so boldly illustrative of this than the most loyal online anonymous troll to this column who every time I become critical of the Robredos, would whip up an instant attack. My loyal critic appears erudite, revealing someone who is probably good at ghost writing, for after all, he prefers to stay anonymous as he heaps on me his highfalutin vitriol.
He faulted me for defending an anonymous attack on the Robredos. He failed to realize that he contradicted himself. He is oblivious to the fact that he has been libeling me using a pseudonym.
So to “Gabby,” you may now begin your trolling for Leni.