It is not a surprise to me that many kids on Twitter hijacked the discussion on the EDSA Revolution 1986 Anniversary, with some good ol’ fanaticism for Ferdinand Marcos.
And I have read all those reprimands online, too, the ones that have as premise “if you think you love Ferdinand Marcos, think again!” or “if you think Ferdinand Marcos is the best president, you don’t know shit.”
I also know that there is no changing these kids’ minds. And if changing it were even possible, it cannot, will not happen on the Internet or social media. And certainly not with titles and captions that are automatic put-downs.
Hashtags as discourse?
If there is anything that is true about social media, no matter our celebration of its democratization of information and opinion, it is this: discourse that can change minds rarely happens here.
Twitter is for grand sweeping statements in 140-characters; Facebook is for longer statuses, even longer Notes. Changing people’s minds through these venues, I’ve found, is far from easy, because these spaces make for short one-liners, sometimes for questions, sometimes in support of something or someone, that mostly serve to spread news rather than to dwell on an issue.
And hashtags have proven unwieldy if it is to be viewed as a way to organize information and/or a way to generate a discussion about one thing. The “#walangpasok” hashtag, instead of functioning as an organized list of schools that have announced suspensions, becomes a display as well of students doing the selfie, because, well, walang pasok. The “#reliefPH” hashtag is also bogged down by these photos and tweets about celebrities helping out, or of people taking photos of themselves helping out. As such, one needs to cull from the information under this hashtag to actually find the ones that are pleas for help or calls for assistance.
The hashtag “#EDSA28” on Twitter certainly generated nostalgia in those who were there, but also it provided the time and space for throwing in pro-Marcos sentiment.
And happening in 140 characters, these could only be the stronger statements that spelled the ruin of this discussion—limited as it is. We are still reprimanding these kids who tweeted about Marcos being the best leader because they read “unbiased history books” as one of them tweeted; that is more mileage than any of the pro-EDSA Revolution 1986 tweets that were generated by #EDSA28.
Write it down
I think doing only Facebook and Twitter is just too easy. It’s easy to have an opinion when all you want is to get the likes and shares that you will necessarily get if your thoughts are non-contrarian, and if you have a keen sense of the bandwagon of “public” opinion that is on social media.
I tend to think that 140 characters have a function, and when you have people like Teddy Boy Locsin Jr., who can work into it some wit and creativity, then it truly is entertaining, regardless of whether you agree with him or not. But there are limits to Twitter and Facebook, and more than anything, social media has reminded me of the importance of writing the essay.
And I don’t mean the long-form essay that we were (badly) taught to write in school. I mean the essay as blog entry, or the essay as a note on Facebook. I mean using Twitter and Facebook as a way to direct traffic to your blog or that website where your opinions are more threshed out, because you actually sat down to think things through.
It has become too easy, this belief that you are already a “gamechanger” and “thought leader” because you have so and so number of followers on Twitter and this many friends on Facebook. I’d like to think that for one’s opinions to actually matter, for one’s words to actually change another person’s mind, it will take more than 140 characters and a Facebook status.
Because that is how it has always been, yes? People used to create discourse by having long conversations about the things that matter. And we can talk to these kids who think the world of Marcos in long-form essays that do not dismiss them as just another bunch of loyalists who don’t know what they’re talking about. If they don’t read these pieces, then it will be on the Internet forever, as proof that someone responded to them in the proper form and venue.
In truth, to imagine that 140 characters and Facebook statuses can change people’s minds and can take the place of honest-to-goodness discourse is just delusional.
Social media activism
But of course it is government that has given social media in this country such credibility, where there is a need to control what comes out of it, how it is able to organize people behind one cause, especially given the pork barrel scams and last year’s Million People March.
Yet I tend to think, given the lackadaisical reaction to the cybercrime law’s libel provision, and the few that went out to EDSA to protest against it, that there is a need to level up the use of social media. There is a need to level up the engagement beyond just 140 characters and FB statuses and memes and the creation of FB groups. I tend to think it is time for all of us to be writing. Let us thresh out our statuses and tweets, let’s discuss issues in longer form, let’s engage the people on Facebook and Twitter beyond these spaces.
Imagine how much greater the fight against cyberlibel and libel would be, if more of us were sitting to write about free speech and its complexities, if more of us were doing critiques (that are not libelous?). Imagine how much of a level-up it would be for this purported social media capital of Asia.