Imperfection, perception and the #RapplerDebate
MANILA, Philippines - An open-air debate that attempted to crowdsource the mood of people who were watching the debate. It seemed like a crazy proposition, and yet Rappler did it with the #RapplerDebate.
After the debate, I spent some time reading my fellow reporters' write-ups and the opinions of people online. While it was nice to see that we trended worldwide, the foremost question in my mind is the question of relevancy.
The question I held to my chest was simple, yet required a thoughtful exploration of the implications of the Internet in the choosing of people to help move the Philippines forward: "So what?"
Imperfect people, imperfect perceptions
People are not perfect. We are swayed by the strangest things when we think about who to trust as leaders, and it comes to mind that human perception is ultimately altered by what is seen or unseen in the process of making a choice.
For instance, perception of former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a politician would have likely changed had people known he was permanently paralyzed from the waist down and used a wheelchair in private.
More to the point of technology influencing public opinion, the televised Kennedy-Nixon debate on Sept 26, 1960 altered perceptions significantly. People who listened in through the radio perceived Richard Nixon as the winner, while John F. Kennedy came out on top in the minds of many who watched the debates on television, which was 88% of US households.
The difference was in hearing versus seeing. While Nixon likely sounded better on radio, Kennedy looked calm and composed on television while Nixon, who had been recently hospitalized prior to the debate, looked less presentable in comparison.
This shift in perception changed the political landscape as budding politicians now had to look good for people watching instead of simply sounding alluring.
As experiment and evidence
For some of you, the mood meter at the debate seemed gimmicky. For others, the mood meter seemed more like an evolution of debates. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the mood meter was neither.
For myself, the mood meter was an experiment as well a reflection of the Philippine political landscape.
The mood meter was an experiment because the #RapplerDebate was the first one Rappler ever held. Inasmuch as people were excited to vote during the debate, it was also a test to see how people would use the system devised in the Rappler offices.
As much as any one would expect, the #RapplerDebate mood meter worked to provide the kind of evidence that suggests the Philippines still needs to grow up as a political people.
You had one job
As far as I am able to understand the progression of events from reading reports and tweets during the debate, it seems various candidates' support groups attempted to sway votes towards a particular mood.
This meant that, once a significant number of votes has been put in, it becomes very difficult to sway the prevailing mood unless more people vote on a certain mood or unless the difference in votes is close.
Because of online campaigning, it also seemed as if some candidates got more votes in total than others. In other words, someone with fewer votes total with a majority of positive votes could beat out (in terms of positivity) someone with more votes total with a majority of negative votes.
The original rationale was simple: listen to candidates speaking for a few minutes, vote on how their explanations made you feel, and alter your vote if new statements support or go against your personal political views and feelings.
Instead of this, what happened is what naturally happens in Philippine elections. You had a candidate in mind and, for lack of a better term, either voted blindly in his favor, voted negatively against other candidates, and got people to join you on a bandwagon.
Pyrrhic victories refer to victories with such a horrible cost for winning that the victory seems meaningless or bereft of achievement.
In this case, whether your bet for the elections won or lost the debate, there's a possibility that we've all lost out on something important. As Denzel David put it on our comments section, by unduly influencing the mood meter, candidates will be the ones losing out "because they will not know the true feeling of the voters. They won't be able to gauge how they truly engaged the people and will not know where to improve."
This begs the question of the mood meter's significance once again. As a reflection of public political thinking, it becomes obvious that there's much to do. As a technological step towards representing or changing public perception, however, it still needs work.
The mood meter for the elections could not be gamed because it wasn't a game for people to play. It was a tool to inspire critical thinking and reflect on the issues posed in the #RapplerDebate. If people misused the tool, then it isn't the fault of the tool, but an issue with the people using it.
While Rappler did inspire people to vote, it was a pyrrhic, imperfect victory at best, and that is a disheartening thought to bear.
It is my hope that people will spend the next month preparing for the elections by doing their due diligence, by being non-partisan, and by becoming a strong, silenty majority that will vote for ideas supported by people they believe in rather than by picking people courting them for votes. - Rappler.com
In these changing times, courage and clarity become even more important.
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