MY column last Thursday was an honest attempt of a taxpayer like me who happens to be part of the so-called social media community supportive of the President, albeit a minor one, to give what I thought were fair suggestions. It was not even an attack on the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), but a sincere effort to contribute my modest thoughts on how to move forward in harnessing the enormous power of social media to become part of the President’s communication infrastructure.
Two things have inspired me. First, there is now a social media unit within the PCOO, which is a tacit recognition of the role that social media plays in promoting the President’s policies, programs and pronouncement to the larger public. And second, I have on several occasions been involved in PCOO activities. No less than PCOO new media undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy has personally reached out to me to hear my thoughts on certain issues. I was involved in the initial consultations on the proposal on social media accreditation, a plan which has since been set aside for further study.
In all of these, I come as someone whose area of interest is in political culture and communication. Any political scientist like me is both a scholar and a student of politics. We propound our positions on issues and offer suggestions on strategies clearly conscious that politics is not a dreamland. It is easy to embark on idealistic platitudes, but in the final analysis politics is a game of power, self-interest and political survival. It is also a game of addition. This is precisely why I think that a healthy, robust, and civil social media community supportive of the President is an indispensable element for successful governance, more so when he becomes a lame duck.
Unfortunately, UsecBadoy, in her response to my column which she posted on Facebook, saw my ideas in a different light. Instead of being open to the possibility of it being a trigger for a healthy conversation, something which she was planning to embark with me anyway, she practically diminished the points I raised. She effectively shut down any room for dialogue, insisting on her contraryviews about politics and political communication. By posting her reply on social media, she served notice that there is no way she would listen to me.
She even had problems when I pointed out the inevitable fact that the President will be a lame duck, not knowing that such is a neutral terminology that we political scientists use without malicious intent.
UsecBadoy unfortunately misread my position. She insists that I am asking the PCOO to interfere in the current social media wars among pro-Duterte bloggers. Had she just been less defensive, and more open, she would have realized that I am not asking them to become mediators on the current battles. In fact, what I emphasized in the last paragraph of my Thursday column was for the PCOO to remain above the fray, and make sure that it remains impartial.
What I have in mind is for the social media unit of PCOO under her jurisdiction as Usec, and for which she wanted me to contribute my ideas anyway, is to develop a support mechanism that would operationalize the staff nature of that unit. Unlike all other communications agencies under the PCOO, where there are personnel doing line and staff functions, the social media unit has no workforce to perform social media-related line functions.
These functions are now practically being performed by the social media community who are largely unpaid volunteers, advocates and activists.
It would not be asking too much if UsecBadoy and her unit establish a mechanism where support systems are provided to us who are at the trenches. I am not even talking about being paid here, but simply being provided access to information, training opportunities and even avenues towards confidence-building to strengthen our social capital, and truly make us as a social media community that is not just existing in cyberspace.
Part of this support mechanism is also legal support, should anyone of us need it for something related to what we say or do in pursuance of our role as enablers and street-level workers doing our jobs as part of the larger presidential communication infrastructure.
Part of building a social media community is also to instill quality control mechanisms, to help social media bloggers process information in an accurate, precise and authentic manner to prevent us from being conduits for fakery.
And most importantly, what is needed is the establishment of an ethics mechanism where conflicts among social media bloggers can be addressed and processed. At present, this is non-existent.
U Badoy thought wrongly that I am insisting for her unit to meddle in the prevailing social media wars, when all I was asking was for a mechanism that can prevent these things from happening in the future.
Much as people would like to romanticize reformist politics as a world shaped by dreamers and visionaries, I would have to burst their bubble and remind them of the empirical realities of power, interests and the challenges during the lame duck phase of any presidency.
UsecBadoy and others like her insist that wars among, or behavior of, bloggers will have little effect on the President or his governance.
But what she just didhas now created a space for those who agree with her to delegitimize me in the social blogging community as a bitter, meddlesome person, when all I was doing was to offer a few suggestions, a role which she earlier asked of me in the first place. UsecBadoy, I am sure had no malicious intent. But she may just have unwittingly demonstrated how opportunities for a fruitful and constructive conversation in support of an enhanced role of social media for better governance can be denied by a single social media post.