Social media in a post-truth world
Julio Teehankee argues that “presidential success depends largely on the president’s ability to form a consensus around a narrative and generate public support for the storyline.” But with the advent of the internet, the rules of the game have changed. In fact, there is no need for a storyline. In our post-truth world, alternative facts have replaced the search for virtue. Objective facts no longer have meaning. Since the truth is now superseded by anger and virulence, cyberspace has become ground zero for the politics of hate.
The main role of trolls is simple: to justify putting down potential subalterns, people who are to be hated and marked as less than human. Social media has become a monster of its own, and those who are under its spell are marching toward that kind of life in which the important role of democratic deliberation has actually been replaced by a mindless click of a mouse. The internet provides the new norm of domestication. This means that it is impossible for an ordinary person to live normally if he or she is not connected to the virtual world.
The political implications are aplenty. For instance, social media has radicalized the way citizens communicate with one another. It has also helped sow mistrust. More so, the internet allows the bad elements in society to stalk innocent individuals, or browse tons of pictures and, hence, violate the privacy and jeopardize the security of people. It also delegitimizes most traditional institutions by infecting the democratic space with viral content that may push the limits of reasonableness. Social media exists like an ecosystem, and fake news is the virus that can cover up the evil of any politician or falsely venerate demons to the extent that they become angels.
Those who seek the truth today are people who are living life on the edge. Misleading news and authentic information that are found online have become indistinguishable. Even the strongest of nations can fall prey to cyberthreats. Social media is the rebirth of the old apparatus of control during the industrial age. In the past, capitalist societies used factories to subjugate the powerless and strip them of their dignity. Right in this information age, the internet reinforces the hegemonic nature of politics. It has also ruined human relations. Thus, our human world is simply spiraling out of control into an irreversible moral divide.
Social media is that potent tool for black propaganda and strategic maneuvering in our money-driven consumer society. Thousands of trolls use the public space to deliver vile and vicious attacks against clueless personalities. From a political end, any viral post does not only destroy a candidate’s reputation; it can also irreparably erase the value and wipe out the core substance of our democracy. Algorithms now replace the freedom of speech. While most of online content may be user-generated, partisan professionals can control what millennials read or view, and, as a consequence, dictate discussions in favor of a paying client.
According to Maria Bakardjieva, “the democratization of society requires radical technical as well as political change.” Like any other instrument, social media may be considered innocent. However, once it is injected with the wrong set of motives, then it can become harmful. In fact, if applied to the context of the Philippines, it exposes the youth to the often harsh nature of politics. Certainly, social media is important in order for people of goodwill to reach out to others. But at the same time, social media is actually polarizing. As an engine that drives the culture of hatred, it can be used to exploit the powerless masses or take advantage of the frustrations of people in society.
Thomas Friedman thinks that in this system, “we reach for the internet, which is a symbol that we are all connected…” But the internet is a dangerous place. That it is democratic is an illusion.
* * *
Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.