(This is the second of a two-part series. The first one focuses on why President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration embraced Mocha Uson as its top social media surrogate.)
President Rodrigo Duterte has appointed sexy entertainer-turned-online personality Mocha Uson as assistant secretary for the Philippine Communications Operations Office or PCOO effective May 8. The agency is currently led by former journalist Martin Andanar.
With over 5,000,000 Facebook fans and over 100,000 Twitter followers, Uson (Margaux Justiniano Uson in real life) is Duterte’s most prominent surrogate on the Internet even before the campaign period began. However, she has been the target of pointed criticisms mainly from the opponents of Duterte.
Six months ago, an online petition was circulated on Facebook by Ateneo de Manila University student Paul Quilet seeking to have her Facebook page taken down for allegedly being a “social media page which promotes lies and hate-mongering online.”
In reaction to Uson’s appointment to a senior government post, Quilet wrote this on his Facebook page: “The Duterte government, in almost a year in power, has legitimized impunity, police brutality, and extra-judicial killings. Today, fake news gets institutionalized as Mocha Uson assumes her new role as Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary. The best and the brightest indeed!”
It can be recalled that Uson was previously appointed as social media consultant of Bureau of Customs under Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon although it was revoked at the last minute when netizens severely criticized and mocked her placement.
While Uson is not alone in being an outspoken supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte, she is unhinged in her language especially in responding to her critics. For example, she called Vice President Leni Robredo “tanga” (“stupid”) on her DZRH radio show – a move that got her suspended for some time.
To be fair, it is not unusual for celebrities to weigh in on political issues. In the United States for example, defeated Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had singers Beyonce Knowles, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga as well as talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as among her strongest supporters.
In past Philippine elections, local celebrities have also made known which side they are known – for example, comedian Willie Revillame back Manny Villar while couple Regine Velasquez and Ogie Alcasid backed Noynoy Aquino during the 2010 presidential polls.
So, what makes Uson stand out? Her strong appeal to the masses (she writes almost exclusively in Filipino) makes her a far more effective online surrogate than those that present themselves as public intellectuals like Liberal Party celebrity supporters Jim Paredes and Leah Navarro. Think of it this way: While all netizens including The Filipino Scribe are storeowners in the so-called marketplace of ideas, Uson gets more attention because of her wide reach.
However, Uson has been accused of using her online clout for sharing fake news to her millions of followers. Through Uson, we can better understand the strong link between the rise of fake news in the context of the worsening political polarization of Filipinos. Uson shows us how easy it is for fake news to be promoted to receptive audiences (in her case, Duterte supporters) at minimal costs.