Hubris and personal ambition

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

LET me be brutally frank. All is not well in the pro-Duterte social media army.

It is often said that revolutions devour their own children. In this case, the revolution has not even started, with those proposing a revolutionary government still searching for a viable template to install it in the absence of a revolution. Yet, some in the pro-Duterte social media are now at each other’s throats.

It is not a secret that social media was instrumental in the victory of President Rodrigo Duterte. Social media has also been very instrumental in the election victories of Barack Obama and Donald Trump. It was effectively used in the political mobilization during the Arab Spring movement, and provided a conduit for political resistance even in situations where there was state repression.

The pro-Duterte social media army is not a conscripted one, contrary to the allegations made by the yellow mainstream and social media. There may have been those who were employed during the campaign, but this practice is not confined to the Duterte camp, but is true of all candidates and political parties albeit in different degrees. It is an army of volunteers, of people tired of the old ways and who rebelled against corrupt, exclusionary and oligarchic elite power that has ruled the country for so long.

The power of social media lies in its pervasiveness and accessibility even to the ordinary citizen. It allows people to participate in the production of political discourse in the privacy, and even anonymity, of their comfort zones.

The political power of social media is seen in its ability to reach millions. This engendered the emergence of individuals with enormous power to influence minds, elect presidents and, sadly, to destroy reputations.

That political power can be so enormous that it can produce so much hubris, and inflate the ego of people who count on their million followers as the very reason for their existence. Just like any army, the pro-Duterte social army has its generals, or those who command enormous following and influence. And just like any army, some of these cyber-generals can be consumed by hubris and can have their own personal ambitions that can eventually undermine the entire war.

Sadly, this is what is now happening in the pro-Duterte social media army.

At the outset, the diversity and the lack of an ideological grounding that could have woven a coherent logic to a disparate collective, have always been the rallying battle cry of the pro-Duterte social media. It was used as evidence that effectively contravened any attempt to paint us as a mindless collective of paid hacks and trolls. The mantra was that the pro-Duterte social media warriors are fiercely independent and are only united by our commitment to support the President, even as we have our own differences.

This was just fine.

Until such differences have veered away from the more substantive aspects of divergent policy preferences, and have become a virtual war zone of competing personal ambitions and egos.

In this story arc, President Duterte is no longer just an object of support and loyalty, to be carried and defended, justified and constructively criticized if warranted. He is now transformed into a tool for the attainment of personal ambitions.

It is saddening to see pro-Duterte social media personalities investing their time in competing as to who has more followers and influence that they even go to the extent of undermining each other. It is horrifying to watch the spectacle of former friends and allies now training their guns on each other. It is unnerving to witness them engaged in a pissing contest of who has more influence with the President.

I have personally witnessed some of these battles that have turned some of my chatrooms into toxic venues for vitriol and pettiness. And it is one that is obvious that even the army of followers can notice the fracturing and the conflict. What is alarming is that the fight has somehow percolated downwards to the base of the social media community, with loyal fans and followers now turning on rival social media personalities and their followers.

It is easy to sugarcoat these as just manifestations of differences, and that it is the President that unifies everyone.

But this is a shallow argument that does not provide much comfort. It would have been comforting if the debates and disagreements were on matters of policy and strategy, which would enable the President to see the diversity of his options as he governs the country. But the conflict is not on policy at all, but is emanating from the pettiness of personality conflicts, threatened ambitions and inflated egos.

What is also equally alarming is the manner in which some pro-Duterte social media personalities have used their enormous power to command their followers to inflict on those on the other side of the political divide the same tactics which were unleashed on us by them when they were in power. The ruthlessness, the brazen use of ad hominem attacks, the wanton display of arrogance that attacks no longer just issues but even persons by destroying their reputations and mocking their physical looks, are simply unnerving.

President Duterte came into power on a campaign of changing the political narrative of our country. How can one even aspire for such when we would use the same kind of warfare that were inflicted on us and have precisely mobilized us to elect one who will enable us to be different.

I have said this before. The undoing of the President will not be by the mainstream and social media that enable the political opposition.

It will be by some in his own social media army, by those who are full of hubris, consumed by their own personal political ambitions that may inflict on him damage that not even Sen. Antonio Trilanes 4th is capable of doing.

Fortunately, there is still time to recalibrate and purge ourselves of hubris and personal ambition.

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