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Sisyphus’ Lament

Is the Mocha Uson Blog evil?

/ 12:57 AM September 26, 2016

“IS A Mocha Uson Facebook post more powerful than an Inquirer editorial?” I provocatively asked columnists and editors at my birthday dinner.

No, they posited, a post by dancer and pundit Margaux “Mocha” Uson is more powerful than all our broadsheets’ combined editorials.

If only because the Mocha Uson Blog (actually a Facebook page) has 4,202,366 likes, and mine has 1,494—help, please like Facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan—I would love to ask Mocha over coffee how opinion can be more effective.

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I have long wondered what might be so wrong and illegitimate about her.

First, her tagline is “not a journalist.” She livestreamed #nofilter her interview with Susan Ritzen of Swedish TV network SVT. She shared how her passion for change springs from the unsolved assassination of her father, Judge Oscar Uson of Tayug, Pangasinan. She encourages everyone to take an interest in politics.

I respect this. I write to push ordinary citizens to think critically about law. I dream of the day the man in the street feels entitled to disagree with a Supreme Court justice on a legal issue. Human catalysts who make us excited again about politics strengthen our democracy.

I, too, am not a journalist. I felt like an interloper when I sat at an old, unoccupied table in the Inquirer newsroom that turned out to be Eggie Apostol’s, a memento from when the paper sourced furniture from a closing restaurant. But real journalists will be the first to uphold that, as long as the line between news and opinion is clear, all have a right to the latter.

The Mocha Uson Blog recalls the sense of wonder of 1990s internet law. The Harvard Law Review extolled how truly democratized free speech became when an ordinary person who is not a journalist could suddenly rival a newspaper’s reach.

Orion Perez is a Singapore-based IT expert, amateur comedian and fiery federalism advocate. My frustrated friend posts various articles and videos taped in his living room abroad, some punctuated with cursing. Thousands now follow his videos and he even appeared on TV with former prime minister Cesar Virata.

I am happy for the Orions and Mochas who find their voices, even if they are not journalists.

Second, critics dismiss Mocha as a sexy dancer with instructional videos on “doggie pepe” on YouTube. But this is pure ad hominem. And Mocha is a judge’s daughter and one-time medical student, and hardly illiterate.

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Third, Mocha is unrelentingly partisan. Further, some argue she strikes below the belt, with one liners such as “Sayang  di ko na save number ni De Lima.”

But would the same critiques apply to columnist Rigoberto Tiglao, who has well defined political perspectives? Teodoro Locsin Jr. and his colorful tweets and Teditorials? Or your Facebook friend who shares 10 daily profanity-laced status updates praising one public official over and over?

Free speech imposes no legally binding rules of decorum.

Fourth, Mocha is decried for sharing articles from fake news websites such as TrendingNewsPortal.net.ph. Yes, even the World Economic Forum is raising awareness on fake news, and Facebook itself is tweaking its filters to avoid amplifying this.

However, Mocha reposts an equal number of articles and videos from real news organizations. She also shares blog and Facebook posts from real individuals. Many ask fair questions, such as how the New York Times had a video interview of confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, complete with subtitles, so soon after his stunning Senate testimony.

Free speech includes the freedom to curate what one repeats. It is the same freedom for a blog followed by 400 or 4 million.

People are free to use even a fake news article as a starting point for their opinions. I have friends who share such because it echoes their beliefs, not necessarily because they are accurate. It is a problem if people cannot distinguish between TrendingNewsPortal.net.ph and Inquirer.net, but perhaps not one fairly blamed on Mocha.

Is Mocha largely criticized by those who disagree with her for being too effective? Is it easier to slut-shame or brand someone as lowbrow? Would it be intellectually dishonest to dismiss Mocha but praise the Superficial Gazette?

Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi recently asked to “stop calling us ‘the media’” because this encompasses “hundreds of broadcast and cable TV networks, a thousand or so local TV stations, a few thousand magazines and newspapers, several thousand radio stations and roughly a gazillion websites, blogs, newsletters and podcasts,” comprising “millions of individual decisions about how we perceive the world.” Mocha is thus part of media even if she is not a journalist, and part of how we continually reevaluate how we speak to each other.

Perhaps the fairest criticism is that Mocha’s blog remains a one-way message. When she posts pictures of her fans holding “international media: stop destablising the Philippines!” messages with pretentious British spelling, how does she answer those who do not completely agree? Which criticisms regarding misleading, biased headlines produced constructive dialogue about editorial policy?

If I could ask Mocha one question, it would be who among the “presstitutes” she respects. It is a mark of a commentator’s integrity to respect those he/she disagrees with. This facilitates having a discussion instead of simply trying to drown out the other side.

The marketplace of ideas is rapidly changing. Our esteemed Randy David strives to outsell instant video reactions, podcasts, memes, infographics and the Mocha Uson Blog. This is freewheeling, tumultuous, and beautifully democratic.

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React: oscarfranklin.tan@yahoo.com.ph, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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TAGS: Duterte, facebook, Harvard Law Review, Journalism, Mocha Uson, Mocha Uson blog, Opinion Journalist, social media
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