Is there limit to online hate?

Jayeel Cornelio

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Is there limit to online hate?
Trolls – and the massive machineries of hatred that operate them – all become banal in the face of compassion

The promise of social media is to democratize public participation. Its curse is the spread of hatred.

And hatred works. Trolls could only fulfil their function if their actions provoked emotional outbursts. They enter the public sphere and hijack real-life conversations. Pundits, journalists, and scholars talk about them and legitimize their existence. In the end, we are all made to believe that the character of our society has changed.

This is why the popularity of hashtags matters. This is also why the number of times a post is shared matters. They present to us a manufactured reality, a fantasy.

Thus the legitimacy of today’s democratic participation does not lie in veracity. It lies in virality. Hatred is its most effective conduit.

Sleight of hand

Bertrand Russell, writing in the early 20th century, was spot on when he asked “Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?” Although he was writing about unhappiness, Russell’s question is more resonant than ever.  

Propaganda, which has taken the form of hate-filled trolling, strikes other people where they are weakest – their insecurities, fears, and ignorance. Russell’s answer is equally spot on: “The human heart as modern civilization has made it is more prone to hatred than to friendship.”   

Mocha Uson remains convincing because she banks on this propensity for hatred. The trick is to smuggle hatred underneath a veneer of righteous patriotism. Therein lies her sleight of hand: to channel that hatred against the enemy and sacralize one’s message as love of the nation.  

Notice her response when her Twitter account was suspended: “This is how hypocritical the yellow supporters are. You say that you do not want a dictator, but it’s you who are acting like a dictator on social media. You cannot curtail the truth and the sentiments of the true Duterte Diehard Supporters. Fight, fellow DDS! Long live the heart of a fighter!” 

Her critics celebrated her suspension with the hashtag #MochaUsonIsOverParty. It became the top trending topic in the Philippines.  

But the caveat is this: That it carried personal attacks on her should be as repulsive as Mocha Uson’s malevolent speech toward the vice president. Contrary to the popular claim, one individual is not enough to divide a nation. 

The parallelism, however, is obvious to neither party. More gratifying is hatred when blinded by vindictive justice.

Hatred, in other words, works as an efficient conduit of a diehard message. It forgets that many of us love this nation.  

Glimpse of hope

But there is hope.

Our society is not as irrational as we are made to believe by this smokescreen of hate. The International Social Survey Program sponsored a national survey on citizenship in 2014. On a scale of 1 to 7, 83.3% of Filipino respondents gave high scores (5 to 7) to indicate that it is “important to try to understand the reasoning of people with other opinions.” Only 3.4% said that it was “not at all important.”  

This is a reassuring indicator of where we stand as a society. It offers an opportunity that the rest of us can take advantage of: We can listen to each other, after all.

This brings us back to one of the virtues that matter to Filipinos: pakikipagkapwa-tao. It is neither absolute nor perfect. But it is so much more desirable than hatred.  

The words of Martin Luther King, if anything, are a sobering reminder to us: “hate begets hate; violence begets violence.”

It is in this sense that humanity is still the durable albeit tedious basis of a working democracy. Disagreements will always be with us as such is the nature of democratic participation. But in expressing our disagreement we must not lose sight of the other as a whole person.  

There is a limit to hatred. It lies in the capacity of people, no matter how hard, to see others as fellow human beings. It denies personal interests and the pursuit of political convenience. It makes human relationships possible, even noble sacrifices made in their honor.

Trolls – and the massive machineries of hatred that operate them – all become banal in the face of compassion. –


Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, PhD, is a sociologist and the director of the Development Studies Program, Ateneo de Manila University.  He is also on the Board of the Philippine Sociological Society.  Twitter: @jayeel_cornelio.

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