June 7, 2016

Banned? Mr. Lingao, let’s learn from Carlos Celdran

The official Facebook page of the Juan Nationalist was taken down by Facebook after it was mob-reported. The deluge of reports came after EJAP released a statement criticizing Duterte’s declarations against media and journalist killings. The account was restored only after contacting a Facebook executive [Star].

A similar case happened to the Economic Journalists Association of the Philippines (EJAP). Meanwhile, One of TV5 journalist’s Ed Lingao’s Anti-Marcos posts also got taken down – twice. At the second instance, the system also prevented Lingao from posting for a cruel 24-hour period [Star].

All the incidents involving these posts and accounts can be summed up into one sentence:

Incendiary content triggered a large number of Facebook user reports that, in turn, triggered an automatic ban.

I, ThinkingPinoy, am a journalist, and my primary enabler is the constitutional right to free speech. That is why I empathize with Lingao, EJAP, Juan Nationalist, and every journalist whose freedom to speak online has been impaired.

The operative word, however, is empathize.

That is, I understand their anger and frustration over the curtailment of their right to free speech, but I do not necessarily share the same sentiment. But before you blow a fuse, let me explain why.

And to facilitate discussion, let focus on the case of Ed Lingao.

The Case of Ed Lingao

Let’s recap what exactly happened to Ed Lingao.

First, Ed Lingao’s original June 1st post criticizing the proposal that the late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos be buried in the Heroes’ Cemetery was deleted from Facebook after Facebook got flooded with complaints from various users [Inq]. Lingao’s anti-Marcos post is shown below:

Second, after it was deleted, Lingao posted it two more times, and both posts were also deleted. Facebook also also prevented him from posting status updates for 24 hours.

Third, Facebook users sympathetic to Lingao re-posted Lingao’s deleted status message, with one of them stating that he was “sharing a screenshot of [Lingao’s] re-post about Marcos and the Libingan Ng Mga Bayani, in case anything happens to it” [FB].
Fourth, Facebook overturned their decision to ban a day later then apologized to Lingao for their “mistake” [TV5].

Fifth, after Facebook reinstated his posting privileges, Lingao posted a new status update:
“Guess what? FB lifted the 24-hour ban on me, and reinstated one of the two posts they deleted yesterday. Accident daw. The other one, the original post about the Libingan ng mga Bayani, is still down though. Thanks everyone! Oh, and i had a peaceful night's sleep, because I couldn't respond to the trolls who have resumed flooding my posts again haha [FB]”

Sixth, a lengthy June 3rd status update essentially attempted to defending himself, rather arrogantly, from allegations of bias. Lingao cited the Cambridge Online Dictionary’s definition of the word “bias” [FB]. Lingao also said:

“Journalists are supposed to be critical but fair, because this is how anomalies are laid bare and lies are exposed. Especially lies that are so well packaged that people swallow them without question. Otherwise, go read propaganda.”

Seventh, by June 4th, he was still warding off online trolls.

Eighth, a section of his June 5th status post reads:

“Well-meaning people have suggested i change my privacy…. It's actually a good way to keep the trolls away… But… If we insulate and isolate ourselves from the rest, we abandon the public to the growing madness on social media… we need to drive our messages across to everyone who cares to read or listen, whether they agree or not, whether they are agreeable or not.”

Today is June 7th and Lingao has started posting about other topics, so I guess he’s trying to move on from the issue.

Now, it’s time to ask:
What exactly went wrong?

Traditional Media vs Social Media

The core of Lingao’s contentious status update is clear: he vehemently disagrees with the proposal to bury Marcos in the Heroes’ Cemetery. Alright, that’s sounds like it’s perfectly within the limits of free speech. His status update would have been a perfectly acceptable opinion piece for a news website or a TV show.

The problem, however, is that social media is neither of the two. The constitution bestows upon us the right to speak freely, but it does not give us to right to force other people to listen. If Lingao published this message on Interaksyon, the public can simply decide against visiting the said website. If Lingao conveyed the message on a TV show, the public can simply switch the channel to somewhere else. Unfortunately, Facebook doesn’t work like that.

For example, I am a massive Game of Thrones fan. However, I rarely new episodes that premier at 9AM each Monday because I am busy during those hours. That’s why I get to watch them late in the evening or even the day after.

I am on Facebook all the time. That’s why I am oftentimes outraged by Facebook friends (or users) who post spoilers right after the premier airs. I reluctantly forgive (but reprimand) friends who do it the first time, but I block smart-asses who do it all the time. I also block Facebook pages that do the same. The smart-ass may have posted those spoilers with the best intentions, but the fact remains that I am pissed.

Now, how is this GoT story relevant to Lingao’s case?

Let’s cite the first several sentences of Linga’s contentious message:

“YOU WANT him buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani? Very well, but on the headstone, put the name William Saunders. That is the name he used to open open his first Swiss account, that later mushroomed to a dozen, whose contents mushroomed to $300 million…”

From the onset, this post reeks of sarcasm, and even Lingao would probably agree that it ruffled a lot of feathers. Lingao may have posted that status message with the best intentions, but the fact remains that its wording will inevitably incense Marcos’s fervent supporters.

I think Lingao forgot the basic mantra, “It’s not what you say: it’s how you say it”. I have read the controversial post in its entirety and it’s pretty clear that Lingao’s post is filled not just with sarcasm, but also with a heaps upon heaps of condescension.

Every person’s Facebook wall serves as his territory, his online home. That post went viral, so it will inevitably appear on the Facebook wall of Marcos supporters. While this is legal, a Marcos supporter may consider as a violation of his personal privacy.

In short, it’s okay if you talk about what happened in GoT, just don’t discuss it in front of me.

Hence the “mob reporting”, as Inquirer puts it. And considering that Facebook is a social network, it should have a built-in program that automatically takes down a post that too many people hate.

And that’s what happened to Lingao.

Cognitive Bias and Lingao’s Right to Inform

Lingao defended his actions a few days later by saying:
 “If we insulate and isolate ourselves from the rest, we abandon the public to the growing madness on social media…”

Again, Lingao may have had the right message. However, it had the wrong words. Instead of making himself sound like I-am-so-right-and-you-are-so-goddamn-wrong, he should have remembered to treat his audience with respect.

Lingao argued that:
“...We need to drive our messages across to everyone who cares to read or listen, whether they agree or not, whether they are agreeable or not.”

That is also partly true, except for the fact that it didn’t work the last time Big Media tried it. Yes, we all know how much negative news coverage Rodrigo Duterte got. The truthfulness of those news bits is not the issue here. Instead, it’s the fact that they annoy Duterte supporters so much, they simply refused to listen to, watch, or read them anymore.

I believe that aside from ferreting the truth, every journalist should also strive to convey their message in ways that can bypass their audience’s respective cognitive biases.

BRIEF: A Cognitive Bias is a systematic error in judgment and decision-making common to all human beings which can be due to cognitive limitations, motivational factors, and/or adaptations to natural environments [Wilke and Mata 2012].

Let’s take a look at the ThinkingPinoy article “Quantifying Discontent: An Analysis of the Bongbong Marcos Phenomenon”. In that article, I explained how the romanticization of Martial Law may just be a product of cognitive bias arising from the public’s disappointment over alarming levels of economic inequality that has stayed the same in the past 30 post-Martial Law, mostly-Cojuangco-led years. I basically told BBM supporters that they’re wrong, but I said it in a way the clearly respects their current disposition.

My post was never taken down and I was never banned from posting.

Some may argue that ThinkingPinoy does not have the same reach as veteran columnist Ed Lingao’s, but judging from Lingao’s previous month’s posts before the Marcos issue, the most he got was 425 shares for a post about the PPCRV hash code issue [FB] and he has 13,500 Facebook followers as of today. On the other hand, the same ThinkingPinoy BBM article was shared over 700 times and I have 36,000 Facebook followers. And for the anal retentive, I also posted a PPCRV hash code article that was shared over 32,400 times [TP: Hash Code]

Logic is not enough

If ThinkingPinoy wrote Lingao’s controversial post, this is how he would’ve started it:

“You want Marcos buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani? I understand that you believe he’s a hero, that he’s worthy to have that plot in Taguig. However, my research paints a very different story.”

I would have deleted the sarcasm, the condescension, the rage. Why?

A journalist’s objective is not just to prove he’s right, but also to persuade other people to be one with his cause. Needless to say, anti-Marcos Facebook users are already against Marcos’ burial. So why bother preaching to the choir?

Yes, I may even agree that Lingao posted that message as a private citizen and not as a journalist, but he is a public figure: the regular Pinoy does not distinguish between the two. Besides, the fact that the it was a public post makes that potential claim untenable.
The Marcos burial proposal gained traction because pro-Marcos users support it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of them (*sigh*). But just like what I tell my real-life friends, “You can’t convince someone to change his beliefs if the first thing you do is piss him off.” 
I have committed the same mistake before, with my hardline attacks against Mar Roxas during the first couple of months of the campaign season.  Luckily, however, ThinkingPinoy's weekly reach back then was just around 1 million FB users, as opposed to about 5 million today.

Lingao is selling a product, i.e. his idea. Before people listen to what he has to say, he has to give them a reason to do so. If that post showed even an iota of respect for those inflicted with what he called “madness”, things might have turned out differently.

Let me put it more simply: it’s okay to hold a street protest against Marcos’ burial, but if one does it on Facebook, that’s just like the online version of barging into peoples’ homes with placards and spray paint. Someone is bound to call the police or worse, hit the intruder with a frying pan right away.

Recognize Human Nature

And that’s what got that post removed. But Lingao’s account got reinstated, right?

That’s true but let’s ask this question:  
Would pro-Marcos Facebook users change their mind after Lingao's post?

If Lingao continues to refuse to acknowledge the dignity of his audience, then in as far as the Marcos Burial issue, he may just be crying over spilled milk.

I pointed out the same issue to Carlos Celdran, but he refused to listen. See our twitter conversation below:

TP: In case you missed it, it was Carlos Celdran who labelled Duterte supporters Dutertards, i.e. Duterte Retards, yet he's wondering why the vitriol?

Celdran: The label came from the excessive bullying and my frustration about the anti-intellectualism fostered by the campaign. An example of a Dutertard (shows a post from a fanatic). If you are not like this guy, then you aren't a Dutertard.

TP: Masses are not yet used to political discourse. Better educated people should know better than to go Rambo on them.

Celdran: So what should the "better educated" people do to foster discourse then? #youhavesixmonthtoprovethis :o)

TP: Cut down on condescension and the passive-aggressive attitude you're displaying right now. Celdran: That is your perception. If you can't handle the heat, then don't walk into the kitchen no?

TP: If u dont wanna take advice, up to you. You can waste time warding off trolls for next 6 years.

Celdran: It's all part of game. Trying to make me shut up about politics or ANYTHING is non-negotiable. #freedomofspeech

TP: No one asked you to shut up. People just want more substance from you because you have degenerated into a troll with a verified twitter acct.

Celdran: Then unfollow. You all have that freedom. I am free to talk. You are free to hold your hands over your ears. :o)

TP: I aint your follower. Just so happens you're polluting (the airwaves) ATM.
Celdran: Then shut the window and leave the room? That's teh beauty of social media. You can unfollow.

TP: I follow @carlosceldran in the same way I follow the sound of sirens on the streets. I don't care abt siren, but it's too noisy.

Mr. Lingao, you may be on the right side of history, so I respectfully ask you to heed my unsolicited advice. Neither for my sake nor yours, but for this country’s.

P.S. And Mr. Lingao, Inday Varona tweeted me, gently saying my article is convoluted, but I think I used so many words to say so little because I respect you so much that I didn't wanna sound blunt. So I apologize for this lengthy post.

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