I WILL probably be bashed again because of this article. But it has to be said.
Social media is supposed to be a venue where kinship and bonds are tightened, and long-lost friends and high-school batchmates found. But at the rate we are going, it is becoming the battleground for wars that can inflict damage to our sense of community.
The very term “social” evokes a positive feeling where even physical distance is defied. This technological breakthrough has made people re-establish or build new connections. Virtual bridges are constructed to add, befriend, chat and follow.
It is this structured embeddedness of the ethos of community that made Facebook become a fixture in the daily lives of so many Filipinos anywhere in the world. We who suffer snail-paced internet connections are in fact one of the most socially wired people. People go to malls to enjoy the free wireless internet connections to be able to chat with relatives and friends abroad, even as internet service providers and mobile companies are outdoing each other in providing cheaper, even free, social media access.
This is because Filipinos have a natural predisposition towards a sense of community. From among the people from different countries, it is us who make instant connections with other Filipinos whom we meet in any place. We make a pained effort to conjure an affinity with any Pinoy we encounter in other places, no matter how remote and contrived, such as having visited his or her hometown, or having a “yaya,” or an uncle marrying someone with the same surname.
Social scientists, particularly those espousing Sikolohiyang Pilipino, have identified our unique sense of “kapwa” or shared self. We celebrate a kind of attitude that looks at people not in a hierarchical sense, but as persons that we need to deal with accordingly, depending on whether they are one of us, or are other people. Unlike Western cultures, where people are individualistic and where boundaries of privacy are well-entrenched and are inviolable, our ethos subsists on community bonds. We live in a culture where a forced imposition of a standard of privacy is interpreted as alienation. We make it our business to intrude into the lives of our friends and neighbors. In our culture, it is not the intrusion that is offensive, but rather when friends and neighbors no longer care about you. Being told that “Wala na akong pakialam sa iyo” (“I simply no longer care”) is almost equivalent to the “f” word in our worldview, for it signals the end of a social relationship.
It is in this social landscape that social media thrived among us. We share memories and bonds through pictures of ourselves and our families, and the food we eat, and the places we visit. Facebook is the new domain upon which we cemented these bonds.
Unfortunately, the technology of social media has also become the domain for political contestations. It was easy for politics to colonize the medium. And social media provided the discursive opportunities for people who would like to propagate their ideas, and their advocacies. After all, the ease by which people can share pictures of faces, places and food has likewise enabled others to share positions and opinions on political issues and personalities.
Unfortunately, and unlike posting pictures about family, friends and food, the act of sharing political opinions on issues and personalities is highly divisive and contentious. After all, the former is an act that would simply take advantage of the social media technology to affirm bonds of family and kinship. There are no public interests involved. However, when we share and post political opinions, we are now addressing an interest that may impinge upon, or worse, offend and threaten the interest of others. No one will be seriously offended and threatened if you post pictures of your family bonding, or your vacation. But when you post a criticism of a political personality or an issue, then you begin to transgress the beliefs and values of those who identify with that personality or those whose position on the issue is different.
It is in this context that social media could easily turn into a political war zone considering that politics is a highly contentious and divisive issue.
What aggravated the situation is when some people turned social media into a platform to further not only their political views, but even their political careers. And here I am not talking simply of politicians who have appropriated social media as new domains for their political campaigns. I am also not referring to political activists who use social media platforms to increase the reach of their advocacy, and in some cases, to even circumvent politically repressive environments, such as those activists who live in countries with severe constraints on public display of politics.
What I am referring to is a new breed of political animals who transformed social media into a playground for their own selfish political ambitions. It is through these kinds of social media mercenaries that political contestations in cyberspace are no longer just about competing political platforms and advocacies. Social media becomes an avenue for the advancement of personality cults where it is no longer issues that become the source of cleavages and contestations. Rather, it is now about social media personalities and their huge egos.
This is what has turned Facebook into a no longer pleasant place, but has now become a war zone of unpleasant verbal combats.
Social media is supposed to be about the celebration of community. But when people leave it because it is already too toxic and “anti-social,” or when people stay to watch a catfight like spectators in a Roman coliseum, then we know that we have gone too far in diminishing our sense of “kapwa.”
Maybe it’s about time we take back social media, but not in the way Maria Ressa imagines it.