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Noise and silence

/ 12:18 AM November 18, 2016

For as long as social media has existed, there have been people annoyed by what others choose to post on it. It doesn’t really matter what you post: whether you upload carefully curated flatlays, or whether you post thoughtful commentaries on social justice issues, there’s always someone determined to be irritated by your content. I thought about this last week when a series of mind-boggling sociopolitical events—a sexy star’s appointment as a broadsheet columnist, the Supreme Court call on President Ferdinand Marcos’ burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and Donald Trump’s presidential win—filled my Facebook feed. For my part I was relieved that so many of the people on my feed greeted the news with (what I thought was) an appropriate degree of shock and awe.

After all, none of these things was a small deal. A woman famous for rumor-mongering on social media was given a position as columnist in a respected national paper. A man whose campaign espoused every form of prejudice was elected as leader of the free world. The highest court in the Philippines arrived at a decision that seemed to ignore three decades’ worth of historical context. It seemed only appropriate that my feed should be bursting with sadness and indignation. I could rest easy because even if the rest of the world had gone crazy, my Facebook friends, thankfully, had not.

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That was until one of my colleagues looked over my shoulder as I was browsing, and sneered. Too many people have too many opinions, he said. “Puro ‘mema’ lang,” he said, short for “may masabi lang” and implying all of the attention-seeking self-absorption of which my generation is often accused. Why should we care about Trump, he said, when we’re not American? Why should we care about the Libingan ng mga Bayani issue when it doesn’t affect us at all?

I can think of plenty of reasons to care, but then I found myself looking at my friends’ posts with a more critical eye. True enough, I found more and more people on my feed who seemed to be echoing the predominant angry opinion without information to back it. My feed was also not immune to overreaction, to misinformation and to the self-righteousness we find in so many social justice warriors. There were long, impassioned text posts that smacked of the desire to garner “likes” and “shares.”

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Nonpolitical posts were few and far between, and it was actually a relief to read vacation posts tagged “#VitaminSea” and to see a vain selfie or two. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to log out of Facebook last week in disgust.

Still, as annoying as social media can be during times of great political moment, I want to point out that it has a clear role in education and news dissemination. In the days following Trump’s victory, for instance, news outlets and Twitter accounts overflowed with news of acts of violence against women, the LGBTQ community and people of color. The news served as a warning for things to come, and as a heads up to possible targets. And who else would have shared these articles but the annoying, self-righteous, mema folks from my feed? Who else would have underlined these bland articles with commentary on what was so wrong with the events in the first place?

It also makes me want to ask: What is so wrong with having something to say, anyway? We’ve all heard about the evil of standing by and doing nothing.  In times like these, maybe noise is better than silence. When so much hangs in the balance, maybe caring is better than the appearance of calm or coolness.

I say go ahead and care, and go ahead and post. Post impassioned rants about SM malls and the destruction of trees, post essays about male privilege, post about the victims of martial law; be concerned about what happened in the past and be invested in what lies in store for the future of our country.  I do not think that millennials were made to stand idly by, to be passive consumers of news; I think we were made to participate in the discussion, and have the capacity to actually lead it. If youth is not the time to be passionate about things, then what is?

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