Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004

About

@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Excerpts of my presentation in the Visayas Blogging Summit 2011 in Cebu

It’s fair to assume that we are fascinated with numbers, except of course during our student days when we cursed calculus, algebra, and our math wizard classmates. But as a general rule, it seems we often equate truth with numbers. A thing, an event, a place, a person, an issue becomes more real if they are linked to statistics. And so we use numbers and impressive statistics in our presentations, lectures, conversations, and essays to increase our credibility. We bombard our audience and readers with numbers to convince and even intimidate them into believing to what we are saying or writing. The statement ‘The Philippines is a poor nation’ becomes more believable if we turn it into this statement: ‘The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands inhabited by 94 million people but one-fifth of the population is surviving on less than two dollars everyday.’ It seems easier to count the hungry stomachs than explain this tragedy.

Let’s admit that we prefer to cite statistics than to be part of them. We like to highlight the depressing numbers which are not directly linked to our lives. Chances are that a person who writes about poverty statistics, number of road accidents, and school drop-out rates is not part of that unfortunate segment of the population. We are unconsciously writing about the miseries suffered by other people.

This brings me to the popular usage of hashtags today. I think hashtags do not merely reflect our desire to ‘trend’ globally. We use hashtags to spread an idea, create a message and promote conversations around it. If carefully chosen, hashtags can dominate the cyberspace and influence the political landscape. The use of hashtags is our attempt to shape the interpretation of an event. But it can also lead to the emergence of something new, something unexpected in the social and political realms. Hashtags represent our active engagement in the world – they are statistics-in-the-making. When we propose a hashtag, we are actually seeking collaboration. We are continually in search of virtual collectives who will support our initiatives.

In the past, poverty discussions were dominated by depressing statistics. Well, poverty discussions today are still about depressing statistics but by using the #poverty hashtag, we are able to expand the conversations as we enjoin others to share their views and thoughts. We seek to provoke their passions and persuade them to do something about the existence of poverty in a land of plenty. And through the #change hashtag, we try to challenge other netizens so that the passive cyber exchange of 140 characters will lead to concrete actions in the real world. From tweeting birds, we become angry birds. From decorative plants, we decide to make that great leap and fight the zombies. It’s the power of the networked mob.

But the #change hashtag can’t dominate the trending wars consistently. Most of the time, the #viceganda hashtag tops the trending topics. It’s only during momentous political phases that hashtags like #ArroyoArrest or #itlognitopacio are able to register their strong presence in the twitterspehere. But during ordinary times, it’s hard to beat Vice Ganda, Anne Curtis or Vicky Belo. So should we admonish the showbiz twitterers? Not at all. Well, it won’t hurt to be more critical sometimes. But we must recognize that the political value of our mundane online ranting, and even our silly tweets, becomes visible when despots try to clamp down on the web. We should count the non-political netizens as among those who can be tapped in the resistance every time web access is restricted. Authorities are sometimes afraid to antagonize this constituency.

When Cambodian authorities banned Blogspot early this year, and Blogspot’s only fault was that it’s the preferred web portal of the political opposition, Cambodian netizens quickly reacted and demanded the restoration of Blogspot access. It’s when netizens are prevented from exercising their right to post their favorite photos, the right to share, like and comment on the most ordinary and non-political issues that often trigger widespread collaboration in the cyberspace.

So yes, the campaign to protect and strengthen our internet freedoms is also a defense of the right of ordinary internet users to use the web for whatever purpose. Our task today as committed bloggers, while we are enjoying almost unhampered web access, is to prepare everybody on how to respond collectively and even militantly when the political situation becomes difficult for web users. Please don’t forget that the state still has the regulatory power to shut down the internet. Even the US and UK, the two self-declared most democratic societies in the world, had no qualms when they proposed to filter or censor twitter when riots and mass actions threatened the stabilities of their cities.

Our social media campaigns should be appreciated as part of the learning phase – it’s the time when we are experimenting with the various social uses and applications of the web with the hope that one day, and I hope that day will never come, the skills we acquired and our accumulated positive practices will be our weapons in defending our web freedoms against various tyrannies.

5 Responses to “Statistics, Hashtags, and Political Blogging”

  1. mong, can i repost this in newsbytes.ph with your byline? thanks

    melvin

  2. Thank you Congressman for your very informative speech during the VBS 2011. I will be following you at Twitter for your updates in congress.

    Edik

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