Solis, scumbags, and sacrificial lambs

Lance Katigbak
It all boils down to basic ethics. We can express our disgust over plagiarism, but should we go to the extent of ad hominem attacks?

We often claim that we have the right to our own opinions. True, we are allowed to speak our mind. As long as the content is not libelous, our words are constitutionally protected.

Unfortunately, there are times when these opinions are just inappropriate, if not downright stupid.

When the plagiarism case (or, rather, cases) of Mark Joseph Solis rocked social media, Facebook walls, online forums, and article comment boxes were once again invaded by the wrath of the ever outspoken Filipino people.

These comments came in different forms. There were those that condemned his acts of plagiarism. There were some that regarded Solis as a shame to the UP community. There were others who called for his expulsion from the institution. And then, there were those who just outright insulted him.

An emerging trend

Solis is not alone. We all remember Paula Jamie “Amalayer” Salvosa, Christopher “I was not informed” Lao, and Jeane “Ang Sosyalerang Palaka ng Pilipinas” Napoles. (Let’s leave public figures like Tito Sotto and Nancy Binay out of this discussion for now.)

Their faults vary. But as soon as their stories went viral, they were all ruthlessly attacked by netizens. Although all of them eventually recovered from the emotional bruising that an Internet attack brings, we end up wondering whether or not they truly deserved it. After all, to be told that what you did is wrong is one thing, but to have a Facebook page created to commemorate your error is another.

It’s become quite a trend, actually. Salvosa has over 1,000 “Amalayer” pages to remind her of her outburst. Lao has 12 Facebook pages made for the sole purpose of ridiculing him. Napoles has 7. And, just recently, Solis was awarded his first—a page entitled “Mark Joseph Solis is a Serial Plagiarist.” I think we might have gone a bit too far.

Oftentimes, we get too caught up in the media hype that we forget that the people whom we throw our unkind words at are people too. These are people who commit mistakes, although some less forgivable than others. These are people who, just like ourselves, think before they act.

Who are we as a people – so perfect, high and mighty – that we may arbitrarily decide that the mistakes of others deserve to be shared throughout the nation and their reputations tarnished with a stain of infamy for the rest of their lives?

The real question

This is no longer a question of whether or not what they did was wrong. In the case of Solis, the distinction is black and white. Academic dishonesty has never been and will never be acceptable. Salvosa’s, Lao’s, and Napoles’ mistakes fall on grayer areas.

This is also not a question of whether or not these should’ve been made public to begin with. Anything that could potentially be of public interest is allowed some time in the spotlight.

The biggest question – and one that must be answered in this new era of communication – is where do we draw the line between freedom of expression and cyber-bullying?

It all boils down to basic ethics and common sense. Just because we aren’t writing academic papers doesn’t mean that we have an excuse to conveniently throw our logic and respect for others out the window.

We can express our disgust over plagiarism and disrespect for authority all we want, but that’s no reason to forget our manners. Like the old adage goes, let’s hate the sin, not the sinner.

Ad hominem attacks

Unfortunately, a quick glance at any of the comment boxes on posts dedicated to these individuals reveals that Filipinos seem to enjoy reveling in the failures of others. We readily throw insults at people, calling them everything from “morally corrupt” to “sociopathic” to “an embarrassment to our country.”

In fact, most of the time, we conveniently toss our logic out the door, resorting to hasty generalizations (“he did something wrong; something must’ve been wrong with his upbringing!”), losing all semblance of rationality (“drop dead, as*hole!”), and sometimes, just blatantly inventing facts (“he must’ve plagiarized all his papers too!”).

Bad logic has no place anywhere.

However, the most common mistake we commit is the ad hominem attack. These blatantly insult the person and strip him of all semblance of humanity. We use our anonymity and the momentum of emotion to shield us from being on the receiving end of these attacks. If we elect to talk about the people behind the acts, then we ought to talk about them in a dignified way, the way any person deserves to be talked about.

Social values

Why is this important? Systems were already created to ensure that wrongdoers do not go unpunished. We have criminal courts and institutional tribunals to do that for us. The role of the public, therefore, is not to put people in jail but to consistently evaluate the kind of crimes and actions that they commit to determine whether or not they deserve to be sanctioned.

We do this through discussion, through debate, and through the opinion pieces that we write, whether as status messages or blog entries. The public outrage that we cause each time a disagreeable act is committed will forever serve as a faithful warning that some things are not acceptable to us and should not be done.

Ultimately, the reason why we should be talking about these issues should not be because we want to see someone’s head roll; rather, we should be talking about them because we want to say that we, as a people, believe that these actions have no place in society.

Not witch-hunts

Discussion and debate are about ideas; they are not witch-hunts. If we continue making them about the latter, we accomplish much less and damage much more.

This is no longer about Solis, Salvosa, Lao, or Napoles. This is about the kind of society we want to create and leave behind for the next generation.

If we want to progress and live in a country with a moral compass that’s aligned with the values we believe in, it’s high time to stop the double jeopardy and stop creating sacrificial lambs for our causes.

We don’t need to create Facebook pages against other people or call them scumbags to remind ourselves of the things that we believe in. –

Lance Katigbak is currently a sophomore at Harvard College in Cambridge, MA. Before transferring abroad, he studied for two years in the University of the Philippines. Outside of academics, he is a filmmaker and photographer, and works for a number of non-profit causes.