Erosion of authenticity and civility in social media

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

There is so much anger and discord among the pro-Duterte social media, spawned by what I now label as the great ego wars between and among social media bloggers. To think that it is the Christmas season, when people are supposed to be celebrating our being linked as families and communities.

What makes this even more distressing is the fact that social media seems to have displaced entertainment television as the source of people’s enjoyment and past time. A case in point: Showtime is a popular noontime TV show, with more than 9 million followers online, but it takes a while for its posts to receive 1,000 likes. We compare this with those who label themselves as major social bloggers, with a smaller number of followers though still in the millions, who can get a phenomenal 5,000 likes within merely two hours of posting. That is even during unholy hours, when most people are supposed to be asleep or are busy at work.

Social media has also produced superstars in the tradition of Sharon, Vilma and Nora, by acquiring celebrity status as they are followed by loyal fans, some of whom are so enamored that they passionately defend their so-called idols, and attack fans of the rival camp. Social media rivalries between bloggers have reached the status of fan wars that can put to shame the feuding Noranians and Vilmanians during their heyday.

However, fan wars over movie stars at best provided people a sideshow to their lives. Their ideological role in society was closer to what Karl Marx labeled as the opium of the masses—instead of being engaged in political wars that stem from the ills of society, the culture industry has propagated a sideshow that consumed people’s time and resources. The Nora-Vilma fan war helped distract the citizenry from the misery that characterized the political environment in which they lived their everyday lives. The fan war was but a continuation of the simulated world of the silver screen, when people bludgeoned by unequal and unjust social relations go into therapy on weekends, or to malls, to watch their idol Fernando Poe Jr. punch the bad guys, or to enjoy seeing the protagonists Sharon Cuneta, Vilma Santos or Nora Aunor, eventually avenge their maltreatment in the hands of Cherie Gil, Bella Flores or Odette Khan.


Religion used to be the opium that numbed people to their sufferings. But there came a time when showbiz took its place as the main social anesthesia—when people started using malls with movie houses as a place for forgetting their emotional, mental or other pains momentarily. This, in fact, led religion to follow suit and migrate to malls to host their Sunday services. Both religion and showbiz, thus, converged in malls to recycle and rejuvenate the oppressed and exploited working class, so that they could be ready again for another week of being bludgeoned by the capitalist, alienating system and the corrupt politics that it enables, as well as that which enables it.

This is, however, no longer the logic that drives social media nowadays as the source of people’s past time. From being a platform to celebrate community that is otherwise divided by physical distance, social media has become a toxic domain for political contestations. The fan wars between Noranians and Vilmanians served as escape valves for simmering political contestations. In contrast, the wars between followers of social media bloggers are now firmly located in political disturbances and perturbations to a point that they have the potential of undermining the capacity of the President to govern.

The reason behind this is that while showbiz fan wars are autonomous from politics, the core of the social media wars is firmly placed within the boundaries of political contestations, if not of selfish political interests.

Furthermore, the movie fan wars of the past existed in real spaces, while the social media wars of the present now exist within the simulated world of Facebook and Twitter, where people can even come not as their real selves. Thus, the exchange of vitriol has become less civil and more toxic, even as authenticity has been compromised.

Fans of rival movie stars fought it out in fan meets and in film premieres. But followers of rival social media bloggers now do battle on Facebook, where the opportunity or transaction cost is lower, considering that all one needs to do is to open an application, without the burden of physically going to a place. There is also less risk of actually being physically lynched, of getting engaged in a fist fight or a hair-pulling, slapping and egg-throwing match with rival fans.

Violence in social media wars has become technology mediated, and now is inflicted as vitriol, and comes in the form of cyber-bullying, trolling, doxing, mass reporting and unfollowing.

And it is here where social media wars between bloggers have become even more virulent. In the fan wars of movie stars, the contestation was mostly targeted toward other fans, and some degree of civility was accorded to the movie stars themselves. There was never an episode in the entire Nora-Vilma rivalry that a fan attempted to throw stones at the car, or acid on the face, or the rival movie star. In fact, Nora and Vilma were popularly represented as friends in real life.

This civility has practically vanished in the current social media wars among bloggers. Bloggers now go for each other’s throats, eagerly rummaging each other’s closets for skeletons, audaciously commanding their followers to unfollow and attack their rivals. Followers viciously attack each other on social media, and the rival blogger of their idols. And worse, some of them are even hiding under the cloak of anonymity, while others are commercially purchased through pay-for-follow services.

This is becoming an alarming reality. Civility and authenticity have practically left the social media community. We should really all reflect on how to bring civility and authenticity back in social media, before our civil and political communities are further damaged.

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