Tuesday, March 2, 2021

False acclamations and accusations


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#Babaeako, inflated numbers and Trillanes cyber-libel case
THE hashtag #BabaeAko is a social media campaign launched by anti-Duterte women activists to condemn and protest his misogynistic acts and utterances. It was supposed to be an organic expression of outrage, and it hoped to spread into a grounded social movement. It’s still too early to tell if it has succeeded, or is succeeding, but Time magazine appears to have short-circuited the process and has already judged its organizers to be one of the most influential in the internet for the entire world for 2018.

It is just too obvious that the move may be beyond simply rewarding the hashtag and its organizers with deserved recognition. Without any accompanying statistics as to actual reach and engagement that the hashtag has generated in the internet, and without empirical enumeration of the massive outpour of actual social action, like that which the occupy movement in the US generated, Time magazine has placed #BabaeAko in a situation that media experts have termed as the tail wagging the dog.

Social media influence is not a fluid construct that one liberal magazine can just appropriate in order to support a movement. There is already a well-established rubric that measures and quantifies it. Being one of the best internet influencers in the world is not a trifling award that one can give to someone in order for it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And if improperly awarded, it can just put the recipient under scrutiny, and may just backfire. If proven to be undeserving of such acclamation, it can only but hurt the very message that the hashtag carries.

#BabaeAko has already been questioned for its partisan appropriation of feminism. Being exposed as a child, or even just a beneficiary, of a well-orchestrated global PR campaign will further erode its authenticity and credibility. Certainly, the women and their pains will be the ones that will eventually take the hit for being exploited as narratives in a larger agenda of bringing down a presidency. Women will once again be objectified, ironically by a movement that purports to protest against their objectification.

Time magazine should have been fair to #BabaeAko. If it felt that the women behind the hashtag deserved the award, its editors should have taken the extra mile of substantiating the warrant for such acclamation. This would have been accomplished by openly publishing the reach, engagement and actual impact in terms of attendance in social mobilization the hashtag has generated, and not just the appearances of its organizers and leaders in TV interviews, or coverage by sympathetic media.


This is because in the age of social media, where distortion of truth is a cottage industry, the presentation of evidence becomes an imperative. The dispensation of acclamations and accolades requires supporting data, in the same manner that allegations of human rights violation need to be substantiated by evidence.

Recently, a team of academics from the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University and Ateneo de Manila University, including foreign scholars from Columbia University, conducted a validation research titled “The Philippine Government’s Anti-Drug Campaign: Emerging Evidence and Data.” The team was able to validate that from May 10, 2016 until September 29, 2017, a total of 5,021 persons have died. This is higher than the figures presented by the Philippine National Police of 4,251 deaths from July 1, 2016 to April 30, 2018. However, it is much lower than the figures provided by the critics of the anti-drug campaign who place the figures from 12,000 to as high as 20,000. In this instance, the ridiculous and highly inflated claims of partisan critics are belied by an academic study that ironically is being conducted by scholars who by and large are sympathetic to such criticisms.

This is the beauty of data, and of academic inquiry. An academic may possess a political bias, as I am certain that most, if not all, of those who conducted the study are critics of the President, his human rights record and his drug war. But the nature of academics and scholars demands that political and partisan biases should yield to the majesty of the data that would be generated from empirically grounded research. No academic researcher worthy of his or her title could do otherwise.

Unfortunately, the damage has already been done. The lies and falsities mouthed by media outfits like Rappler and politicians like Leni Robredo and Antonio Trillanes fourth have already poisoned the truth about the real score on deaths related to the war on drugs.

The case of Trillanes is worth citing in this regard. Protected by his immunity from suit as a senator, he has freely, and without strong evidence in the form of empirically verifiable data, hurled damaging allegations and accusations against the Duterte administration and its officials, President Duterte himself, including even his family. And now, he has hauled to court a popular pro-Duterte blogger who has been indicted for cyber-libeling him.

Trillanes anchored his case on the fact that there was no truth to the allegations made against him by the popular blogger. The prosecutor herself went over the records of President Donald Trump’s statements and nowhere did he ever refer to Trillanes as a narco. Truth therefore became Trillanes’ defense, a truth that was substantiated by actual data.

If there is any lesson from the Trillanes case, it is one that is now taught to those who populate social media. Social media is now polluted by too much toxicity emanating from angry posts from both sides of the political divide, freely hurling accusations at each other without the benefit of evidence and effectively distorting truth. We cannot expect Time magazine to back up its acclamation of #BabaeAko as a world-class internet influencer with data, or critics of the drug war to present correct statistics, or Trillanes to back up his allegations against the President with evidence, if we ourselves do not impose the same level of evidence every time we praise those we idolize and malign those we demonize.

In the end, the Trillanes case ironically provided powerful evidence that effectively shattered one lie that is being uttered by critics about President Duterte. A popular and staunch pro-Duterte blogger has been indicted for cyber-libeling an opposition senator. This has practically demolished any accusations that we live under the shadow of a tyrannical President, where an oppressive regime allegedly silences his critics, and where creeping impunity has allegedly compromised the institutions of law and justice to favor his allies.



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