“Untrollable” political situations/conditions

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

The “trolls” in the well-loved animation movie are small, colorful, perpetually happy creatures who sing and dance all day. They exuded and brought happiness to others. Something must have gotten lost in the translation as, “internet trolls” are now defined as persons who intentionally antagonize others online, by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, offensive posts and other comments, with the intention of disrupting online communities. This column is about the second kind of trolls whose objective is to digitally influence and bully online opinion with provocative but false information.

The political trolls became noticeable in 2015 with the increasing speed of information transmission and diversification globally, which gave more people access to the internet and social media. It was also the time of social and political disenchantment with existing political structures and social inequality that gave rise to populism. Then, there were the coming US and Philippine elections that were fertile grounds to propagate campaign information. With the deluge of false and planted campaign propaganda in the 2016 US and Philippine elections, it was argued the internet trolls may be a factor, but the degree of influence is debatable as other factors were also exposed on television and the newspapers. The US 2020 election validates this opinion, as Trump lost the election even if the trolls were in high gear.

Fast forward to 2020, after the US election and the world is beset by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we see the global, social, and political environment radically altered. The trolls are exposed, identified, and controlled by social media sites and by the online communities. Some of their posts are disallowed/deleted and some trolls are banned in many sites. Trolls are still around, but people are more aware of their activities and not-so-noble intentions, so their influence is greatly diminished. This is true in the Philippines and the world. Then, there are also a determined pushback against the trolls by decent and moral persons to deny the trolls their audience by dis-engaging with them and denying them the audience, which is easy as the script or playbook of the trolls are repetitive, lack depth, and limited to their official opinion factory. There are and will be many situations that trolls cannot influence.

Recent example of “untrollable” situation is the death of Pnoy Aquino weeks ago. The outpouring of sympathy and support unnerve the troll farms on the possible effects to the 2022 election, that they came out with a false narrative on the circumstances of PNoy’s death that was so crass and unethical that some trolls refuse to post it, and it had to be withdrawn/disowned later. It also generated so much counter posts that it did more harm, antipathy, and lost votes for the government. Another “untrollable” situation is the government’s management/mismanagement of the pandemic. No matter how much they deodorize the bad governance in the main and social media, the ill effects and the impact on the people are undeniable. This is true not only in the Philippines but in many countries governed by populist leaders.

Trolls will not disappear and will be with us for some time, but will be declining in importance. Their effectiveness will diminish as advances in social media and information/communication technologies restrict their broad dispersion. The sheer volume of digital information will make people selective and discerning of online information. Historical forces are also trending against populism and dictatorships which is aided by and are consequences of the information revolution.

To the trolls who are trolling to earn a living, do not give up your day jobs as trolling has limited growth prospects. There is also the moral imperative of truth and justice.

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