Aiding search for truth

The search for truth has to be a continuing effort of citizens wanting to get to the bottom of things. After all, the essence of democracy is free speech and respect for contrarian views.

 

Note: This column originally appeared in The Manila Times on November 24, 2020.

 

These days, truths are shades of gray, which only mean there are more fake news than truths, framed by hashtag campaigns that are made to trend in order that they become news in tri-media. And when it has trended, truth is sacrificed. It is interesting that #NasaanAngPangulo was again resurrected since this was formulated by a group that wanted to prime the candidacy of an individual, whom the group wanted to contrast against another. The problem in using that with the current administration is that it shows a lack of context because one will just have to look into how President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (PRRD) acts when there are typhoons, earthquakes, terrorism attacks and the like. A single act does not define leadership. A series of acts cements a leader’s track record.

There is also a sense that not all positioning should be calibrated. After all, communication is not just public relations or, worse, media operations. Authenticity still rules despite the foul mouth of a leader. Clearly, Duterte has a mandate, and that mandate allows him to act accordingly until 2022. Do we applaud him for all his inanities? No, we don’t. But the majority of Filipinos wanted the outlier to be their leader. The majority wanted to do things differently. The majority was accepting of all the cussing made in public because the majority felt the same way felt tired of the status quo, tired of leaders just siding with oligarchs, tired of failed promises and tired of dumbing down.

So, when Typhoon “Rolly” (international name: “Goni”) and Typhoon “Ulysses” (international name: “Vamco”) came and government was said to be sleeping, the individuals who launched such campaign never considered the situation: that there were catastrophes and moving the whole bureaucracy was critical in Marikina, Rizal, Isabela and Cagayan. And knowledge of the work of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) was critical in understanding that the direct attacks made on Twitter (because the platform is media friendly) were maliciously made to create a wedge between the response ability of the Duterte administration and the public and to question the government’s action at the height of the storms. By questioning the administration, one is promoting a narrative that an unseen president is a leader who is missing in action. Anyone, who has studied public administration, knows that presidents command both uniformed and civilian personnel. The operations command works 24/7, and the men and women there are dedicated to their tasks of always being on call from the PNP, AFP, the national security cluster and the Office of the President proper.

So, how do we determine the truth when false narratives are peddled? Imagine calamities linked to the franchise of ABS-CBN? Nonresponse by the government on Twitter, a platform one can readily game, depending on the cluster of support one has built across months or budget paying for it. One critic even said fee per troll is P4,000 per day. Do the math. At that rate, one gets P1.46 million for a year. At 10 trolls, that’s P14.6 million. How many troll armies do you need to create traction? You see how the false narrative is being made, aided by innuendo and manipulative propaganda?

How do we detect bots and trolls, causing high toxicity online? An “internet bot, web robot, robot or simply bot is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the internet. Typically, bots perform tasks, [which] are simple and repetitive, much faster than a person could. The most extensive use of bots is for web crawling in which an automated script fetches, analyzes and files information from web servers. More than half of all web traffic is generated by bots.” On the other hand, “a troll is a person, who starts flame wars or intentionally upsets people on the internet by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion either for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.”

So, how do we determine the truth? We should revisit the Socratic method, “a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.” We owe it to ourselves not to fall into the trap as gamely laid out by instigators paid to create havoc publicly. It uses six distinct types of questions to help you question your question. It’s a lot less confusing than it sounds when you take a look at some examples of such questions.

Questions for clarification:
– Why do you say that?
– How is this related?
– Could you explain this in more detail?

Questions which produce assumptions:
– What can we assume from this?
– What does that mean?
– Can you verify your assumption?

Questions which necessitate reason or evidence:
– Do you have an example of this in real life?
– What has caused you to believe this?
– Why do you think this happened?

Questions regarding perspectives:
– Is there another way to look at this?
– Have you thought of the other person’s point of view?
– Who benefits and who loses from this consequence?

Questions which calculate consequences:
– What is the implication of this?
– Does this relate to previous knowledge?
– How does X affect Y?

Questions on the question:
– What does this mean?
– How can you apply this in your everyday life?
– What was the point of this enquiry?

Why is Socratic questioning relevant to us? “Socratic questioning can help you reach a different conclusion to the questions you were asking. It will also lead you to a better understanding of the question itself and its purpose in your everyday life. Although it is typically an analytical method, it can be used in a personal sphere with a little tailoring. There are a number of ways we can use Socratic questioning. Its most notable use in psychology is for self-analysis and problem-solving. Socratic questioning can indisputably help us in self-analysis. By applying pointed questions to our issues or insecurities, we can begin to change our minds and our thinking about certain issues.”

The search for truth has to be a continuing effort of citizens wanting to get to the bottom of things. After all, the essence of democracy is free speech and respect for contrarian views. Filipinos should stop calling other Filipinos, bobo (dumb) and tanga (stupid). No one is. If PRRD cusses, let him. His exasperation with the situation he has inherited is worth every cuss. But we also hope that he will tone it down; even jokes said on the dais.

“Honest communication is built on truth and integrity and upon respect of one for the other.” We can disagree with each other, but no one has the right to debase a fellow Filipino; much less on the altar of political expediency.

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About the Author
Malou Tiqiua is the Founder/General Manager of PUBLiCUS Asia Inc. A noted political management expert in the Philippines and Asia, she brings over 20 years of professional experience in public, private and the academe combined. Author of the comprehensive book on electoral campaigns in the Philippines, "Campaign Politics", Malou is a graduate of the University of the Philippines with a Political Science degree and a Master of Public Administration. She completed her second master's degree (MA in Political Management) from the Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
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