Trial By Facebook Court

If you’ve got it, flaunt it, Mr. Osorio says in reference to Jeane Napoles, a woman caught in the middle of her mother’s PDAF scandal. In his article for the Rappler entitled “In Defense of Jeane Napoles,” Mr. Osorio argues that Jeane’s social media accounts are marketed towards her clique and that online media can play dirty.

While I do not agree with his arguments, I do believe he raises an interesting point. The role that social media plays in political issues has never been more apparent the last five years than it has ever been. Not only can people be updated on real time regarding social concerns, but they can react to it — share it, like it, comment on it — a feature traditional media never had. However, there may be some drawbacks towards this so-called online court.

I was in fourth grade when Erap’s impeachment case was in full swing. Every night, we would sit down and follow the news. Initially, that was the end of it for us. I was a probinsyano. If I wanted people to hear me react, I needed to write to our local paper or call the radio. And they weren’t going to take me seriously. Again, I was in grade four.

A year or so later, cellphones became popular and Erap jokes were all over the place. What was a serious issue of graft had the possibility to be broken down into jokes grade school students can appreciate, laugh at, and, in turn, be the keys to understand national issues.

During GMA’s Hello, Garci scandal, it was Friendster that was popular. Friendster then was marketed towards a very young social group. While it was insanely popular for five years, it birthed a “testimonial” generation, more interested in what people had to say about them, then saying anything else.

At the height of Gloria’s more (shall we say) “evil” scandals, Multiply was the SNS to have. Arguably more of a photo-dump gallery than anything else, Multiply’s provisions for blogging were daunting for people uncomfortable writing more than three paragraphs in a row. In terms of commentary, it was present definitely, but it wasn’t that rampant.

It was only with the Facebook explosion of the short status message that catapulted a nationwide connection, an easy access to read what your friends are reading, share any news article that you deem worthy, or, and more importantly, comment on any situation, be it something as mainstream as why you think Bamboo shows so much favoritism in his judging for The Voice of the Philippines, or something perhaps a bit more political, like your opinion of the PDAF scandal. 

Other SNS are present (Twitter, Instagram, Plurk, Tumblr, the ridiculously narcissistic Foursquare), but all of them always run parallel towards the great Facebook. With the launch of data-capable cellphones in late 2000’s, one was always connected now — and not just to his friends, but connected towards Philippine society (or at least the ones who can afford social networking) and national issues.

For better or for worse.

We make jokes about it now, one of the better ones being “If Facebook were invented during the time of the Katipunan.” But reimagine the past now, and contextualize Martial Law but with the presence of social media. Imagine the EDSA revolution told as a series of tweets and instagram reposts. Imagine vimeo vidoes of the Erap Impeachment Trial. Imagine the countless Rappler opinions during the Hello Garci episodes. And just imagine the Professional Heckler taking jabs at Prospero Pichay during the 2007 national elections.

It changes everything. And this is for better or for worse.

We go back to Mr. Osorio.

He condems the online community for crucifying Napoles, under the context that nothing has been proven so far by the court. At this point, no matter what the courts decide (and no matter how long they take), Napoles has already been judged guilty by the online community.

I can’t see why that’s a bad thing.

Yes, there are flaws with the online court. Studies have shown, for instance, that a lot of people don’t finish reading news articles. There is the tendency to read the title and the first couple of paragraphs, but it is quite rare for someone to finish a whole post. Let us not pretend that our media is completely free of any political or business interests. There is always a slant to it — and sometimes  it’s not for the truth.

Take Janine Tugonon’s issue, for instance. What was a simple domestic matter had catapulted into a national concern that had overshadowed more pressing issues at that time. Reading through the comments netizens wrote about her, you’d think she was a mass murderer or a corrupt politician (neither of which would get the same media attention she did). Her “crime” was nothing more than the expression of her feminine sexuality.

Yes, the online community is vicious. Yes, political issues are never purely black and white. And, yes, the Philippine judiciary system is the final arbiter in conflicts.

But, what is the alternative?

Mr. Osorio says to stop judging them as nothing has been proven. Doing so means we are not involved. Refusing to be aware or to take a stand against the misappropriations of our taxes is an act of indifference. It is now, more than ever, that we need to be critical. Now more than ever that we need to take a stand. Now more than ever that we demand accountability from those who handle our government.

Is it sensationalized? Yes. Is that a bad thing? No. Against a turmoil of celebrity chika, at least in this issue we are discussing a grave national concern.

The claws of online backlash are harsh and blunt. But they are symptoms of a society waking up. It is now, right now, especially right after an election that was backed-up by strong online campaigning, that social media is rising. Gone now are the days we are fed what to believe in. Here is a way for them to hear our voices, no matter how brutal it can be.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it, Mr. Osorio says with regards to Jeane Napoles. Perhaps, for a society that is starving, seeing expensive bags and shoes whose brands “they don’t even know,” (Osorio, 2013) and knowing that there is a high chance those were bought out of the taxes they’ve toiled for everyday, this is a cry of foul.

So, yes, I am with Mr. Osorio with calling against a “hype of hatred.” By all means, be critical, be informed, form opinions of your own based on research and your judgment. And afterwards, be heard. Like. Comment. Share. Spread the word. And, most importantly, take a stand.