UNFRIENDED | On maintaining civility in Internet discussions
I was a guest last May 6 in the program “Samahang Bidang Bida,” a talk show that airs on DZUP every Wednesday morning. The show is celebrating its fifth year anniversary this month so every week, they will be interviewing so-called “icons of change.”
Like in my previous media appearances, they invited me in connection to my work with The Filipino Scribe. During the live one-hour interview, I was asked about my views on various topics dominating the local and international news.
The interview happened just a week after Mary Jane Veloso’s scheduled execution in Indonesia because of a drug trafficking case was postponed at the last minute. In the days after her unexpected reprieve, militant groups slammed the government for alleged credit-grabbing.
Celia Veloso, Mary Jane’s mother, needlessly worsened the situation by attacking the administration of President Benigno Aquino III. “Maniningil kami, marami kaming singilin,” she memorably said upon returning to the country. She has since walked back her strong words in various occasions.
As expected, the debate over this issue also reached the Internet. Once united in support of Mary Jane, netizens became polarized between those who support the Velosos criticisms of the government on one side and on the other, those who recognize the success of the government’s intervention in her case. To remind all readers, I am on the latter side, and I outlined my case in this blog post.
As someone who’ve long used the social media (dating back to Friendster and Multiply days) to express my opinions on current events, I am already used to having people disagree with my line of reasoning. That’s beyond my control. As I’ve said time and again, getting criticisms and opposing viewpoints is to be expected if you choose to share your insights online.
Nevertheless, can’t we all agree to disagree without being disagreeable human beings? We can express our disapproval of someone’s point-of-view without resorting to personal attacks and insults.
I mentioned that because at the height of the issue, one commenter suggested that I am ignorant about human trafficking, not knowing that I’ve actually won a national recognition writing about the subject years ago.
Iconic Filipina novelist Lualhati Bautista also had a similar experience after she called on Mary Jane’s family to be very careful in attacking the government since her case isn’t settled yet and that they will still be needing all help they could get.
“Hindi ho makakatulong na mabuwisit sa inyo ang marami at mawalan ng ganang tumulong. Tandaan n’yo: nakataya pa rin ang buhay ng anak n’yo,” she wrote on her Facebook page. After which, she received bashings mainly from people affiliated with militant organizations including Migrante, Gabriela, and their allies. The attacks prompted her to “unfriend” dozens of her Facebook contacts.
It seems that some people now prefer to turn their social media accounts into their personal echo chambers, where only comments aligned with their viewpoints are allowed to exist. In reverse, opposing viewpoints are attacked with anger and vitriol.
We may be on opposing sides today, but tomorrow is another day. We disagree on this one, but we can agree on many other issues. Now, if you let demagoguery get its way, how will that happen?
To sum it up, the battle over which side deserves credit over Veloso’s temporary reprieve is very petty. The focus instead should’ve been on how she can appeal and win her drug trafficking case so she her life will be saved with finality.