GMA News Online recently launched the #HindiTama project to respond to the proliferation of fake news articles and memes which allegedly undermine the power of social media, and turn it into a tool for disinformation instead of enlightenment.
There is no way one can misinterpret the intent of the project. It is to exorcise social media of the fakery and misinformation. And it has an element of crowd sourcing by asking netizens to report and mark offending stories, posts and memes.
And this is where the intent to make things right could end up being so wrong.
Just a few weeks ago, the campaign to take back the Internet made some noise. The campaign was also reacting to the same phenomenon of social media going out of control and being taken over by trolls and fakers.
Traditional media is in panic mode, and it is not entirely because the sanctity of journalism is compromised, but also because the profitability of corporate media is undermined. They are being out-liked and out-engaged in social media platforms like Facebook. Mocha Uson, Sass Rogando Sasot and Thinking Pinoy are out-performing the online editions of Rappler, Inquirer and the major networks.
But the sheer arrogance and holier than thou attitude of the campaign to retake the Internet drew strong reactions. It was soundly criticized for its pretentiousness and elitist prejudice.
This is a fate that may also befall this otherwise noble intention of the Kapuso network. The project already speaks of elitist self-entitlement, where GMA appointed itself as the arbiter of correctness. And this is aggravated when it turned its focus to social media alone as the only possible source of bias-induced lies and misrepresentations.
Yet the acts of lying and misrepresenting have earlier found their natural home in mainstream media. In fact these biased misrepresentations are what enraged and dissatisfied the netizens and drove them to social media to post their own takes on political issues. When legitimate news was no longer “tama” or correct, enraged citizens turned to the Internet and used it as a space to express their own narratives. Unfortunately, citizen expressions in social media became vulnerable to fakery, even as political propaganda found a new place to thrive, preying on netizens to become foot-soldiers in spreading unverified information.
But one question needs to be asked. If journalists and media networks can commit the sins of misrepresentation, as bearers of lies and institutionalized biases, then why should GMA target only social media for cleansing?
This is what is not right in #HindiTama. It turns GMA into a custodian of correctness, and a curator of crowd-sourced truth reports culminating in the hashtag #HindiTama being stamped on the offending post without even the benefit of due process for the netizen, and of self-introspection for the one calling out the offense.
Of course, some will say that mainstream media already has its editorial mechanisms to weed out biases and lies. But we also see the obvious biases of media companies being revealed in the news they print and air, no matter how hard they try to hide and deodorize these with their slogans of supposed objectivity. Some like Rappler, the Inquirer and ABS-CBN have already been tagged, rightly or wrongly, as biased against President Duterte and the Marcoses. Obviously, editorial mechanisms become complicit in propagating the biases and lies by mainstream media.
And then you have journalists who project themselves as gate-keepers of truth, as fact checkers, but their partisan views, or hatred toward certain political personalities emerge from their social media posts. In fact many media personalities, and I am not talking here of political analysts and media-moonlighting academics but legitimate professional news-gatherers and news reporters, boldly express their political biases in their own social media accounts.
Yet, GMA opted to focus on the ordinary citizens whose posts deserve to be judged, shamed and stamped with #HindiTama.
GMA may have taken the initiative to be at the forefront of the campaign since it is perceived to be one of the least biased, and one with the lightest political baggage. I would have believed this had I not been a victim once. In July 2015, my op-ed piece critical of the former President’s last SONA was pulled out from GMA News Online allegedly upon orders, this despite the fact that it was already vetted and reviewed. That article would have been the 47th I wrote for them.
One should be reminded that there is nothing special in exposing fake news and fakers, for you simply expose them for what they truly are.
But when you expose legitimate news and professional journalists for the lie they peddle, then it becomes truly subversive since you expose something for what they have failed to do.
And this is precisely why this campaign to exorcise only social media of the fakery and the misleading memes is not subversive enough. In fact, it is just another face of the hypocritical and arrogant campaign of retaking the Internet.