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Sisyphus’ Lament

#Lenileaks: Mocha Uson KO’s mainstream media

Singapore—#Lenileaks had nothing to do with Vice President Leni Robredo or leaks. It demonstrated how Facebook pages can now set the national agenda.

The bizarre nonstory began with the Global Filipino Diaspora Council (GFDC) YahooGroup. Created in 1998, these are e-mail based versions of Facebook or Viber groups.

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GFDC botched its privacy settings. There was no leak; GFDC simply let the world see its e-mail archive.

Last Jan. 6, the Mocha Uson Blog and other pro-Duterte Facebook pages claimed to expose a plot to oust President Duterte.

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One decried the “well-organized, well-funded, highly-influential propaganda machinery” of “very influential people,” including Filipino-American billionaire Loida Nicolas-Lewis, her sister, Inquirer.net’s US-based columnist lawyer Ted Laguatan, and Europe-based Filipinos.

The source?

The not-so-secret GFDC e-mails.

For example, Laguatan e-mailed on Nov. 12, 2016, to call for protests against extrajudicial killings and the Marcos burial, to be joined by former presidents, bishops and University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila and De La Salle student and alumni organizations.

For context, last September, Ateneo’s beloved president, Fr. Jett Villarin, asked Ateneans to wear black to the high-profile Ateneo-La Salle basketball game “to express our solidarity with victims of human rights violations.” Many did not.

It is thus delusional to think an elderly US-based lawyer could send them into the streets.

Although Lewis is an inspiring patriot; if GFDC actually had massive influence, perhaps more than 3 percent of overseas Filipinos would vote (see my 4/18/16 column, “Why do only 3% of 8 million OFWs vote?).

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And Lewis and Laguatan already publicly asked President Duterte to resign, so there was no exposé from that angle.

Thus, #Lenileaks was a small group of older overseas Filipinos—yes, including a billionaire—venting in a YahooGroup. The Vice President was clearly not involved, although they supported her campaign. The e-mails did not discuss violence, sedition or ouster.

What headline did the whistle-blowers expect?

“US-based Pinoys dislike Duterte, e-mail friends”?

“People still use YahooGroups”?

Nevertheless, #Lenileaks soon became news.

The Facebook campaign escalated for two days and egged mainstream media to carry the story. Mocha Uson criticized Inquirer reporter Jaymee Gamil for dismissing the issue as “bullsh_t” and “online intrigue” on Facebook.

By the afternoon of Jan. 7, Robredo was categorically denying involvement in any plot.

On Jan. 8, Randy David’s Inquirer column explained that Laguatan was an old UP schoolmate from the 1960s, but his e-mail was one of David’s 37,805 unread e-mails, opened only after #Lenileaks went viral.

On Jan. 9, Sen. Franklin Drilon rejected the allegations as “crap.” Rep. Edcel Lagman argued democratic dissent is not seeking ouster. For Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, the issue signaled government paranoia.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre dismissed GFDC as “making noise.” National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon downplayed the matter as unimportant.

On Jan. 10, President Duterte shared:

“I wish them all the success.”

Media and officials from both sides thus seemed unsure how to react to the exemplars of wishful thinking that were the GFDC e-mails. Still, these drew more reaction than that week’s debate on increasing Social Security System pensions.

Jonathan Mahler warned in the New York Times that millions “are abandoning traditional sources of information, from the government to the institutional media.”

#Lenileaks went further. A calculated push by several Facebook pages rammed the issue into the news cycle and forced government and the institutional media to react. And this was different from past spontaneous social media outrage, such as the ones over the airport tanim bala (bullet planting) or the proposal to search  balikbayan  boxes.

Mainstream media must hurry to attune itself to the ambiguous, fast-changing world of free Facebook and internet memes lest they lose their greatest power, their ability to frame our national discourse.

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

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TAGS: #Lenileaks, GFDC, Global Filipino Diaspora Council, Inquirer.net, Jaymee Gamil, leni robredo, Loida Nicolas Lewis, mainstream media, Mocha Uson, Oscar Franklin Tan, plot to oust Duterte, pro-Duterte Facebook pages, protests against extrajudicial killings, Sisyphus’ Lament, social media, Ted Laguatan
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