TikTok: Censoring WPS influencers?
Patriotism, in its most standard form, is often a thankless job in the Philippines. Of all my trips around the world—from New Delhi to New York, from Greenland to Germany, and from Perth to Pyongyang—I have never encountered any nation such as ours.
For more than six years, a whole infrastructure of quack experts, faux intellectuals, and well-oiled troll armies systematically harassed, intimidated, and besmirched whoever dared to speak in behalf of our legitimate sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea. They slandered world-class thought leaders as warmongers or “pro-American” stooges for simply questioning Beijing’s preposterously excessive claims across the whole South China Sea basin.
Leveraging the Duterte cult of personality, a whole host of suspect influencers transformed into geopolitical experts almost overnight. Lifelong entertainers suddenly became “experts” on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This was Dadaist art at its finest. Even Albert Camus would have been confounded by the absurdity of the situation.
Next to the death of thousands of our countrymen under suspicious circumstances, the most tragic legacy of the Duterte era is an unfathomably defeatist mindset, which infected countless unsuspecting minds and enriched opportunist circles. Under Duterte’s watch, patriotism was castigated as warmongering while geopolitical capitulation was celebrated as “pragmatism.”
Against this backdrop, it was incumbent upon any sane and self-respecting patriot to take the fight to the enemy. Throughout that whole period, I published multiple books, participated in hundreds of media interviews, and penned more than a thousand articles to explain the nuances of the maritime dispute and its broader geopolitical context.
I also became hyperactive online and, unlike any of my peers, began directly engaging not only the trolls but also the charlatan influencers. It took Herculean patience and Socratic wisdom to wage that cognitive attrition warfare for more than half a decade on a daily basis.
Following the latest incident in the West Philippine Sea, I prepared several well-curated short videos to push back against Duterte-style pro-China propaganda. And given the high stakes involved, I didn’t hesitate to engage any major platform, including China’s TikTok.
Last week, close to half a dozen times, and across a 72-hour window, I uploaded West Philippine Sea-related content, only to see them not getting even a single view. Given the configuration of TikTok’s algorithm, which facilitates virality, it’s almost impossible to get those view numbers, especially when you already have hundreds of thousands of likes in the bag. My previous posts on political issues racked up to half a million views.
What began as bewilderment quickly crystallized into gnawing suspicion. Goes without saying that I have followed news around the world, documenting multiple cases where the Chinese app allegedly censored content inimical to the interest of the ruling communist party. Given the Chinese social media platform’s notoriety for alleged censorship (if not eavesdropping), I actually use a burner phone for the app. Just to play safe, I also place the phone far away whenever I have any sensitive discussions. When heading to meetings with high-level officials and confidential conversations, I don’t even dare to bring that phone with me.
Just to test how smart the alleged censorship is, I tried posting videos unrelated to West Philippine Sea issues or anything that has to do with China. When I uploaded a snippet of my interview with former senator Leila de Lima on her trials and tribulations, the video garnered views within seconds. The same principle applied when I re-uploaded another video on the Game-of-Thrones-like fallout between the House of Marcos and House of Duterte in recent months. By this time, it was almost clear to me that something was afoot.
In fairness, I’m yet to get any proper explanation from TikTok, despite tagging them on multiple occasions on social media platforms. Am I being censored on a case-to-case basis, or shadow banned altogether?
What is urgently needed is a proper investigation by the government into the Chinese social media platform’s activities in the country. And if they are indeed found to be enablers of a hostile foreign power, then appropriate actions should be taken based on our national security interests. We owe that to ourselves—and all the patriots risking it all for the West Philippine Sea.