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[ANALYSIS] A Rube Goldberg cartoon of our inconvenient reality

Dean de la Paz

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[ANALYSIS] A Rube Goldberg cartoon of our inconvenient reality

Raffy de Guzman/Rappler

From the simple act of empowering free-form social media, through to enabling influencers focused on trivialities, we may just have finally lost the democracy we enshrined in our constitution.

Numbers are rarely infused with emotions, feelings, much less passions. They are meant to be objective, dispassionate, factual, absent fire and fury. Numbers simply count and measure. They quantify. What passions and feelings are eventually evoked come after when numbers are interpreted against others or are set against a larger backdrop where a picture emerges from the combination of numbers.

Interpretations slowly creep in and head towards subjectivity, especially when arithmetic operations like computing for percentages and averages, or determining the mean, mode and standard deviation are applied.

When these are drawn on a graph and a picture emerges, then that could be a eureka moment when we suddenly realize what we are seeing. As we attempt to make sense of either the facts, forcing ourselves to develop a hypothesis or a notion, or simply extrapolate a single fact to validate personal realities and experiences, whether pleasant or inconvenient, then facts turn into hypothesis, and from hypothesis conclusions might emerge.  

In a rather verbose way, we have just described the scientific method, applied it to numbers and then forged forward to initially test notions and develop a defensible number- and fact-based conclusion. 

Allow us to apply this method to recent events. As politicians seem to be gearing up and assembling their pawns, queens and other chess pieces in preparation for the 2025 midterm elections, this early attempting to influence current issues to develop narratives and platforms for the campaign period that starts in about eight months, the public is slowly being distanced from the last presidential exercise that generated some of the most miraculous and unbelievable numbers ever seen in Philippine politics.

It has become irrelevant whether a majority believes that there was massive cheating or whether the results indeed reflect an overwhelming mandate for the Marcos administration. Unfortunately, we are where we are, and it is what it is. We deserve the outcome, fraudulent or factual. 

In any case, the impact of the 2022 presidential elections has been underestimated, with some of the principal contenders simply deciding to move on, forgetting that their loss was not simply a personal defeat but a defeat for the electorate that trusted them, or, on an even grander scale, an existential defeat for the democratic suffrage system by which our leaders are vetted and installed.

Pundits, political scientists and analysts, barbers, beauticians, even pedicurists point out several aspects of our emergent culture as factors behind the outcome of the 2022 elections. When we analyze these, it becomes evident why the miracles of 2022 may perpetuate through to the next presidential elections and beyond.

One aspect is the shift of information creation and dissemination from the traditional, legitimate, and accountable sources such as the academe and mainstream media to popular social media platforms where even non-trained and anonymous, Filipino or alien, human or non-human artificial intelligence bots are empowered.

Another aspect is the employment of social media “influencers” who have replaced pedigreed and professional authoritative academics and seasoned media practitioners with long standing experiential foundations in news and public affairs. 

An anti-disinformation NGO who asked for anonymity estimates that from P600 million to P1.5 billion was spent on influencers for the 2022 campaign. Quite a number now come from such diverse fields and professions as legitimate healthcare and illegitimate snake-oil peddling, popular entertainment, gameshow hosting, radio vigilantism, comedy central clowns, even the culinary arts, public relations, advertising, and travel and tourism fields.

To validate the potency of their messaging on the political arena, simply analyze the backgrounds and demographics of those the public has empowered as lawmakers.

The third aspect segues from the previous. As are the current crop of policy and lawmakers characterized, so is the content of the messaging on social media. 

First, there is large-scale disinformation. Second, not all disinformation at first blush appears to have a political objective albeit, like thieves in the night, politics lies at its foundation and what apparent triviality appears eventually leads to a political outcome. Hence, the results of the 2022 presidential elections and the domination within Congress of the unqualified, inexperienced if not uneducated.

Content analysis of Philippine social media shows an overwhelming prevalence of non-political issues that do not yet include entertainment. Comparative analysis shows the current entertainment news and starstruck idolatry in social media is approximately only 1.3% of non-political issues. To be specific, issues that concern Marcos and Sara Duterte are at 0.88% and 0.28%, respectively. It is then easy to conclude that despite the apparent cluttered cacophony, content-wise, social media does not discuss political issues as much as we might instinctively think.

Just to be cruel, cognizant of social media’s troll armies and bots, allow us a deeper dive into the neglected political content so that we can fully appreciate our lost opportunities. 

When and if Marcos is discussed in social media, the top messages focus on his partnerships, programs, and projects, as well as on his campaign to alter the preconceptions of his father’s dictatorship. Such content is by design.

When and if Sara Duterte is discussed, the top messages focus on her accomplishments and her on-going rift with the Marcos administration. Again, such content is deliberate.

In stark contrast, when and if former presidential candidate Leonor Robredo is discussed, the top messages focus on her travels and speaking engagements on the pitfalls of disinformation and a lump-in-the-throat reminiscing by supporters of her grand rallies.

If we paste all these on a single frame arranged to show a cause-and-effect relationship, what results is a Rube Goldberg cartoon of a contraption showing the creation of social media as a primary source of information, how its messages are spread by influencers whose messaging content is focused on non-political issues, and eventually how creative political machineries convert the Goldberg contraption into a voting machine.

From the simple act of empowering free-form social media, through to enabling influencers focused on trivialities, we may just have finally lost the democracy we enshrined in our constitution. –

Dean de la Paz is a former investment banker and managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance, and Mathematics professor. He collects Godzilla figures and antique tin robots.

1 comment

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  1. ET

    I believe that we have not lost our democracy; the effect of social media has just corrupted it.

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