Tag Archives: new media

Some notes on digitizing social change

What follows is a modified version of a talk that I, on behalf of The Pro Pinoy Project, delivered last 20 February 2012 at Saint Louis University, Baguio City, as one of the resource speakers for the Digital Technology for Social Change: Creating Impact in a Networked Society seminar series, a project of the British Council Philippines.

My fellow speakers were Niña Terol-Zialcita, Micheline Rama, and JP Alipio. Members of the British Council Global Changemakers network, namely Jecel CensoroJoseph MansillaAnna Oposa, Dwight Ronan, and Ponce Samaniego, also talked about their respective advocacy projects.

Some Notes on Digitizing Social Change

Good morning. Thank you to the British Council Philippines and Saint Louis University for having me here, and to all the participants for the gift of your presence—or your tele-presence, for those of you watching the live stream of this session.

That the Internet has brought about, and will continue to bring about, wide and sweeping changes all over the planet would appear to be a matter already beyond question. In 2006, the print edition of TIME’s annual Person of the Year issue bore a shiny, reflective panel on its cover—the reason being that the Person of the Year was “You”. Lev Grossman, explaining the choice, wrote that one of the stories of 2006 was a “story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It’s about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people’s network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It’s about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes”.

Grossman was referring to the dramatic impact brought about by Web 2.0, an umbrella term, that, following Prashant Sharma, covers online services that were built to facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, crowd-sourcing, and collaboration. And while Grossman did warn against romanticizing Web 2.0—despairing at, among other things, the hatred and the lack of spelling skills that many of its users seemed to have in abundance—he nevertheless asserted that it gave rise to the “opportunity to build a new kind of international understanding, not politician to politician, great man to great man, but citizen to citizen, person to person”.

Regardless of whether “You” was the right pick, it is worth pointing out that succeeding Person of the Year issues saw TIME recognizing people who, without the Internet, might not have otherwise been thus acknowledged. In 2008, the magazine selected Barack Obama, whose successful campaign to be the President of the United States of America was driven in no insignificant way by online support. In 2010, the recognition went to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of an immensely popular social networking company—you may have heard of it: it’s called Facebook, and it recently filed for an initial public offering (IPO) worth USD5 billion. Last year, TIME chose “The Protester” in view of the massive demonstrations that—with the help of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, among other tools—were organized and still roil across the globe: in Europe and North America, in the Middle East and North Africa.

Given the theme of this seminar series—“Digital Media for Social Change: Creating Impact in a Networked Society”—it might be the aforementioned protests that spring to mind when we, with an eye to our own history of revolutions, try to imagine what can be done in the Philippines today. Using digital media, can we bring about positive social change? Or—to paraphrase from the preamble of our Constitution, a document which is supposed to be an expression of our collective will as the sovereign Filipino people—using digital media, can we promote the common good? Conserve and develop our patrimony? Share and enjoy the blessings of independence and democracy? Establish a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace?

Yes. Yes, of course. If I didn’t believe that, I would never have come before you to speak at this forum. (Incidentally, the girl in the picture has “optimistic” written across her hand in Arabic.) And yet the previous questions were more than merely rhetorical ones. Social change must always be understood as taking place within specific constraints, and especially so when we seek change by digital means in these islands. Such constraints cannot simply be conquered or transcended by sheer force of will—they form part of the unavoidable “social thickness” that must be lived through and negotiated with.

It hardly needs saying that I am not a Luddite: I own a mobile phone, a laptop computer, and an e-reading device; I have been a user of the Internet since the late 1990s, a time when a connection speed of 56 kilobytes per second—torturously slow by contemporary standards—was considered acceptable; I have been blogging intermittently since 2001, starting with Blogger.com, when it hadn’t yet been acquired by Google; and I spend several hours a day online chatting with friends, looking at pictures, watching videos, reading articles, and broadcasting banalities via social media platforms.

My stance as regards the Internet, however, is principally a cautious one. I am wary, even skeptical, of the various claims that are being made for it, verging as some of these claims do on what I would call “digital evangelism”: a zealous, fanatical conviction in the transformative power of digital technology in general, and the Internet in particular.  We must remember that the Internet is a relatively new development in the human story, and while many a commentator has declared that it will rival and eventually dwarf the printing press in terms of cultural impact, much of its potential, particularly in the Philippines, remains exactly that: potential. Digital change-makers who lose sight of this risk being engulfed by narcissistic self-regard.

All the same, you would not be ill-advised to take my words—as the fantasy writer George R. R. Martin might put it—well-salted. It may interest you to know that one of the first skeptics about technology was Socrates.  In Phaedrus, the Greek philosopher tells his titular interlocutor a story about the Egyptian god Theuth, who is credited with the invention of arithmetic, calculation, geometry, astronomy, draughts, dice, and, most importantly, the use of letters, or a system of writing. Theuth, desiring to make these inventions available for other Egyptians to use and benefit from, pays a visit to another god, Thamus, who is king over all Egypt, to show and explain each of the things that he has made. When they come to the letters, Theuth says that writing “will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for the wit”.

Thamus replies with a gentle rebuke: “O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.”

Socrates was not completely wrong about writing—certainly it had some of the effects on knowledge and memory that he had feared—but he could not have foreseen this: the world that the written word had made possible, as well as its attendant wonders, not least of which is our ability to revisit his thoughts, precisely because they had been written down by Plato.

The first part of my presentation is derived from an ongoing, if not entirely systematic, process of research into and reflection upon digital media and the ways by which it is reshaping our lives and labors, and my primary objective here is to raise to the surface questions and concerns that I hope will help all of us to gain a greater awareness of the context that we inhabit, and a better appreciation of the possibilities for action. The second part of my presentation deals with The Pro Pinoy Project, the organization that I represent, and some of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for what may be called “participatory journalism”.

I will begin by drawing up a map of the local digital mediascape. The nature of a map is such that it is necessarily incomplete, and mine is a very partial one that focuses on the Internet, but I hope it will be sufficiently illustrative of some of the issues and limits that we must contend with.

Let’s talk about infrastructure.

Sometime last year, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) released a publication via its web site called Measuring the Information Society 2011, which features two tools that are used to monitor developments in information and communication technology (ICT) worldwide: first, the ICT Development Index, which tracks indictors pertaining to ICT access, use, and skills in a given economy, and then rates that economy on a scale of one to ten; and second, the ICT Price Basket, which considers the costs of fixed-telephone, mobile-cellular, and fixed-broadband Internet services vis-à-vis the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of a given economy.

 According to the latest findings by the ITU, how did the Philippines fare? With regard to the ICT Development Index, our country got 3.22 out of 10, ranking 16th out of the 27 economies classified as belonging to the Asia and the Pacific region, and 92nd out of all the 152 economies that had been included in the study. As for the ICT Price Basket, the ITU computed that the composite cost of ICT services in the Philippines was about 9.2% of the per capita GNI, based on a GNI of USD2,050. As a point of comparison, consider that the top 28 countries included in the study have composite costs of less than 1% of the per capita GNI.

The situation is not much better for the global majority.  As the ITU remarked, “Despite […] encouraging trends, as at end 2010, some 70% of the world’s population (and almost 80% of the developing countries’ population) were not yet using the Internet, and even fewer via a broadband connection.”

 Another study of interest that came out online the year before is the Global Information Technology Report 2010-2011, which is a collaborative effort between the World Economic Forum and INSEAD. The report measures the degree to which countries are leveraging ICT for enhanced competitiveness using the Networked Readiness Index (NRI), which uses a scale of one to seven. The NRI is composed of three sub-indices, and each of these sub-indices is calculated using a particular set of indicators.

The overall networked readiness of our country is 3.6 out of 7, with a rank of 68th out of 138 economies. For the Environment Sub-index, which gauges the market environment, the political and regulatory environment, and the infrastructure environment of a given economy with reference to innovation and ICT development, we got 3.5 out of 7, ranking 94th. For the Readiness Sub-index, which contemplates the readiness of individuals, businesses, and governments to use technology, especially ICT, in their day-to-day activities and operations, we got 3.9 out of 7, ranking 99th. For the Usage Sub-index, which measures the actual ICT usage by the main social sectors of an economy, we got 3.3 out of 7, ranking 71st.

At the risk of oversimplifying, what these two reports tell us is something that we may already suspect, if not know: the Internet in the Philippines is poorly developed and very expensive.

The Global Information Technology Report also includes a number of papers from contributors, including a team from management consulting firm Booz & Company.  Entitled, “Building Communities around Digital Highways”, the authors, led by Karim Sabbagh, make a case for the need for digital highways, which they define as “nationwide high-speed broadband enabled by a combination of fixed as well as wireless networks”, and evaluate their current state. They argue that, “[a]ccelerating the deployment of digital highways and deriving their full benefits […] requires fundamental changes in vision and action throughout the entire broadband ecosystem”, which means that policymakers, operators, device manufacturers, application developers, and other stakeholders should be actively involved in what they call the “broadband ecosystem” . Furthermore, those in the broadband ecosystem must also reach out and collaborate actively with adjacent ecosystems, such as health care, education, and energy, in order to help them maximize digital highways and the advantages these highways can offer each sector.

Obviously, one entity with an important role to play in establishing the broadband ecosystem is our government , so it bears asking what sort of “vision and action” we can expect from it. I will go over three pertinent aspects of the government framework for the Internet.

Last June 29, 2011, the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT), headed by chairman Ivan John Uy, launched the Philippine Digital Strategy (PDS) 2011-2016, a five-year plan that professes to be animated by a vision of “a digitally empowered, innovative, globally competitive and prosperous society where everyone has reliable, affordable and secure information access in the Philippines”; “a government that practices accountability and excellence to provide responsive online citizen-centered services”; and “a thriving knowledge economy through public-private partnership”.

Can the PDS, in fact, be able to facilitate the realization of these grand goals? Pro Pinoy editor-in-chief Cocoy Dayao doesn’t believe so, and has suggested in a post that the PDS be scrapped—a point that I agree with, as careful scrutiny of the PDS would reveal that is concerned chiefly with establishing a broadband network for the government, and does not establish clear directions for how to deal with issues that directly affect the growth and proliferation of digital technology, such as the cost of electricity in the country, which, according to an October 2010 study by think tank International Energy Consultants, is the highest in Asia. Of course, any discussion of the merits and demerits of the PDS would seem to be useless at this point, because six days before the plan was launched, President Aquino, by way of Executive Order No. 47, virtually dissolved the CICT: the issuance renamed the commission as the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) and placed it under the Department of Science and Technology, a move that several BPO companies protested. To what extent the ICTO is implementing the PDS, if at all, is not very clear. The administration has said that it does want to set up a national broadband network (NBN), but it will not happen this year, as Department of Budget and Management (DBM) Secretary has said there is no allocation for it yet. And of course, the very concept of an NBN is still politically sensitive—some of you may recall the NBN-ZTE scandal that erupted during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Another matter that I would like to bring up is National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) Memorandum Order (MO) 07-07-2011 .

Let me talk about the context of this order briefly. An issue that had several quarters of the Internet community last year up in arms early last year was a proposed order from the NTC that, while requiring telcos to set a minimum guaranteed speed for connections, would have allowed them to impose bandwidth caps on its subscribers, too—ostensibly on “network abuse” and “anti-piracy” grounds, neither of which holds up under inspection. With reference to “network abuse”, it is simply too vague a term that readily lent itself to abuse by self-interested service providers, thus punishing consumers who simply wish to maximize what they are paying for—which for not a few might mean playing games on Facebook, watching videos on YouTube, and publicizing every stray thought on Twitter 24 hours a day, but there is nothing wrong with any of that. As regards “anti-piracy” concerns, let’s face it: no amount of data restriction could truly be used as a tool to further the cause of “anti-piracy”, because capping would only make piracy slower, not impossible. Several of our writers covered this issue quite thoroughly, and one of them, Pierre Tito Galla, drafted a position paper that was circulated among concerned Internet users before being submitted to the NTC for consideration, as well as published in Pro Pinoy.

Fortunately, as a result of the public outcry, the NTC decided against implementing the aforementioned order. What it issued instead, some months later, was MO 07-07-2011. In some ways, though MO 07-07-2011 looks better than the prior proposal, it is still “ampaw”, as Galla put it in a post. He remarks that while MO 07-07-2011 does require transparency in billing, provide for a minimum monthly service reliability level of 80%, and give Internet service providers (ISPs) flexibility in terms of packaging and pricing their products, it is deficient in terms of the following: it does not provide effectively for pre-paid Internet connectivity, given that reliability is measured on a monthly basis; it does not require service reliability to be measured at the subscriber end; it is silent on data volume capping, despite the NTC asserting that it could regulate broadband services, meaning that telcos, which consider broadband a value-added service, can still impose unreasonable limits; and it does not compel ISPs to establish customer-friendly mechanisms for getting rebates in case the minimum service reliability level is not met. (If you’ve ever had to complain to your ISP about poor service, like I have, you know how absolutely hellish the experience can be—so much so that sometimes the problem almost seems to be your fault all along, starting with the decision to subscribe.)

Allow me now to discuss a recent legislative development . The Senate recently passed Senate Bill No. 2796, which is entitled the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, and has Sen. Edgardo Angara as its principal sponsor. While the bill may be well-intentioned, it suffers from a number of significant flaws, some of which I will identify.

First, the bill, as Sen. TG Guingona pointed out when he voted against it—the only senator to do so—“legislates morality” when it defines cybersex as a crime in this manner: the “willful engagement, maintenance, control, or operation, directly or indirectly, of any lascivious exhibition of sexual organs or sexual activity, with the aid of a computer system, for favor or consideration”. Evidently this provision is designed such that law enforcers can go after operators of cybersex dens, which unfortunately are burgeoning in the Philippines. Note, however, the qualifying phrase: “for favor or consideration”. If we were to compare it to, say, the definition of prostitution under Republic Act No. 9208, or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, which is “any act, transaction, scheme or design involving the use of a person by another, for sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct in exchange for money, profit or any other consideration”, then doesn’t the provision in the bill appear stricter, because broader? “For favor or consideration” and “for money, profit, or any other consideration” do not mean the same thing.

Second, the bill affirms that acts of libel, as set forth in the Revised Penal Code, can be committed in cyberspace. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that our libel law is rather medieval. A case in point: the United Nations Committee on Human Rights ruled in October 2011 that the penalization of journalist Alex Adonis for libel constituted a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Adonis was imprisoned after he lost a defamation suit against former House Speaker Prospero Nograles.

Third, the bill has no provisions that pertain to stalking, bullying, or harassing people in cyberspace, which means that these acts, regardless of duration or degree, would be perfectly legal in the event that the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is passed into law.

Do our leaders really understand what goes on in cyberspace? I myself am not sure, and it’s a question worth thinking about, because the decisions that our officials make will have an impact—positive or otherwise—on all of us who use the Internet.

 Who are we that will be affected? Who are the Filipino netizens?

The figures I will be citing during the next several slides come from Digital Philippines 2011: Yahoo!-Nielsen Net Index Highlights, a study that was conducted in 22 major cities, including Metro Manila, among 1,500 male and female users, aged 10 and above, across socio-economic classes.

Let’s start with geographic distribution . In the period covered by the report, only 30% of people in national urban Philippines used the Internet in the past month, with 26% in Luzon, 30% in Visayas, and 17% in Mindanao. In Metro Manila, the figure is 43%, while in Cebu and Davao, the figures are 34% and 37%, respectively.

 In terms of age, Internet usage was highest among those aged between 10 and 19 (53%) and between 20 and 29 (43%). Among 30- to 39-year-olds, it was 21%. Among 40- to 49-year-olds, it was 11%. And among those aged 50 and above, it was 3%.

 Where are people accessing the Internet? There are several options, of course, but the dominant option is the Internet café at 66%, nearly double that of the next option, the home, at 35%. Other places of access, such as school or work, have an aggregate of 13%.

 With regard to socio-economic class, usage was highest, unsurprisingly, among classes A, B, and C, at 66%. Among users in class C2, it was 53%, and among users in classes D and E, it was 24%.

These findings tie in with what the social scientist Raul Pertierra pointed out in “The new media and politics? Or the politics of new media?”, a paper that was published in the 2010 anthology The Politics of Change in the Philippines . There, Pertierra said, “With the exception of class, cellphone and Internet use in the Philippines is comparatively neutral. […] Class is the main impediment to a more equitable access to the new media […]”

To put it more starkly: at least 70% of Filipinos have no Internet access.  I say “at least”, because the Yahoo!-Nielsen study focused on urban areas. When we try to think about using the Internet as a means for bringing about social change, we have to remember that we are not reaching a significant majority of our fellow Filipinos: at present, 63 million of them—assuming a conservative population figure of 90 million—are not online.

 What about those who are online? What can we know about their patterns of behavior?

 In terms of content, the five most preferred types are: international music at 68%; local music at 65%; interesting photos and videos at 59%; games at 56%; and technology and gadgets at 55%.

 The top five online activities are: social networking at 82%; search at 80%; instant messaging at 69%; visiting Internet portals at 67%; and visiting public chat rooms at 65%.

The fact that Yahoo!-Nielsen identifies social networking as the top online activity is interesting to juxtapose with data from Wave 3 and Wave 4, which are studies on social media that were undertaken by Universal McCann in 2008 and 2009, respectively. If we put together the numbers from these two latter pieces of research , we find that the social media activities done most frequently by Filipinos are: watching videos at 98.1%; reading blogs at 90.0%; uploading photos at 86.4%; creating a profile on a new social network at 83.1%; and uploading videos at 67.5%.

What should we make of these numbers? When we go online, most of us aren’t there to promote a cause or to advance an agenda, to research for class or to do work—we’re there primarily to amuse ourselves: we listen to music, watch videos, and interact with friends. This preoccupation with entertainment isn’t necessarily bad, of course, but it is something that we do have to bear in mind.

British Council Philippines Digital Technology for Social Change

 One point that I hope should be abundantly clear by now, after all those statistics, is the existence of what is referred to as the digital divide, which is not so much a single chasm as a series of gaps between the Filipinos who are privileged enough to have access to the Internet—which includes us who are gathered here now—and the Filipinos who are not similarly privileged: gaps in knowledge, in literacy, in resources, and in power.  We should ask ourselves, then, whenever we access the great fund of information that is the Internet, how we are using our privilege, and why.

In 1980, the year that Polish poet Czesław Milosz  was hailed as the Nobel Laureate in Literature, he intoned what seems to be both observation and warning during his Nobel lecture—one that is even more germane today: “Our planet that gets smaller every year, with its fantastic proliferation of mass media, is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember.”

Whether that is true could well be debatable.  It is more difficult, however, to dispute what technology writer Nicholas Carr has said: “As we use what the sociologist Daniel Bell has called our ‘intellectual technologies’ […] we inevitably begin to take on the qualities of those technologies.” Or, as the Jesuit John Culkin put it more succinctly, “We shape our tools, and thereafter they shape us.”

Perhaps, before asking how we can use digital technology to change the world, we should ask how that same technology is changing us. While some of these changes may be for the better, I’m sure all of us are aware of disturbing behaviors that appear to be specific to cyberspace, and my contention is that these are not isolated incidents, but symptomatic of larger problems to which the Internet tends to contribute or exacerbate as medium, and against which we must guard. I will cite two examples.

 Take, for instance, mobbing.  I’m sure all of you know who this guy is: he’s Christopher Lao, who was caught on video by a media outfit trying to drive his car through a flooded street. He failed in the attempt, and his car wound up floating in the water for a while. He immediately became an online sensation when, in reply to an unaired question from the reporter, he cried, “I was not informed”, as he looked like a spoiled brat whining about a thus far inevitable Philippine reality. Vicious comments and hate pages proliferated at dizzying speed online.

His critics neglected to ask some questions, however.

Why did Lao take such a foolish risk? It turned out that he had been rushing home to be with his young daughter, because his wife was stranded in her office.

More crucially: how was that footage taken to begin with? The existence of the video proves that members of the media outfit were present at the scene. Did they think to warn Lao from proceeding down the street? Did they try?

 In any case, as the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said, “[Apart] from sharing the news, people had started to call Lao names—used rude and/or insulting words to describe him and the incident—in other words, a clear abuse of social media.”

Another example:  failing to exercise critical thinking. The Mosquito Press, a satirical news site, released a story saying that a Harvard study had named Filipinos the most gullible people in the world—a story that was promptly picked up and treated as genuine by no less than a professional writer, The Philippine Star columnist Carmen Pedrosa. This set off a round of much-deserved scorn from several quarters for Pedrosa, but she was unapologetic: in her next column, she declared that it was still true that Filipinos are generally gullible, and her citing the spurious study was precisely to make that point . Manuel Buencamino, another of Pro Pinoy’s writers, had this to say in response: “I’m still in pain from the steaming hot coffee I blew through my nose after I read her column and the ‘correction’ she made the following day.”

 While we’re on the subject of thinking, we might as well ask: How is Internet changing our brains—not only metaphorically, in the sense of the “mind”, but also physiologically? There is quite a lot of literature on the subject, but one paper that I think is worth mentioning was written by child development scholars Maryanne Wolf and Mirit Barzillai.  In “The Importance of Deep Reading”, Wolf and Barzillai redeploy Aristotle’s concept of three lives to talk about how the transition from a print culture to a digital one affects learning. In their view, society at present is able to pursue the life of activity and the life of enjoyment, and the digital learner is well-suited to both these lives. The life of contemplation, however, in spite of its increasingly diminished place in contemporary life, is also important, and is vital to what they call deep reading—“the array of sophisticated processes that propel comprehension and that include inferential and deductive reasoning, analogical skills, critical analysis, reflection, and insight”—which encourages deep thought, and in turn leads to the formation and development of structures in the brain that would otherwise not be so formed or developed. A world that makes no room for the life of contemplation, then, might be one filled with individuals who are less analytical and less purposeful about the information that they encounter: perpetually distracted and easily deluded.  As Wolf says in her book, Proust and the Squid, “We are not only what we read. We are how we read.”

Of course the dangers of distraction and delusion are already very much with us: ours is the age of information overload. And while information can be empowering , it is not always so—mere possession of information does not guarantee action or transformation: an issue that was recognized long before our time. Cultural critic Neil Postman, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, his famous book on—or rather, against—television, locates a watershed in history with the invention of telegraphy, saying that the from this point forward, the information-action ratio of people began to become problematic : “For the first time in human history, people were faced with the problem of information glut, which means that simultaneously they were faced with the problem of a diminished social and political potency.”  For instance, we are bombarded daily, offline and online, by tidbits of data such as what X celebrity was wearing an outfit by Y designer at Z event, but are these things we have to know? Should we care?  Can this information be acted upon in a meaningful way? The Internet has served to increase by leaps and bounds the amount of information we are exposed to, but so much of it is simply distracting—however one understands the Internet to be, it is also, by design, a gigantic distraction machine that, in forcing us to respond—and quickly—to multiple stimuli every time we use it, makes us feel busy and productive even if we’re not actually accomplishing anything.

Henry David Thoreau made a relevant point in Walden when he said, “We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.”

As I said earlier, this part of presentation is derived from an ongoing process of research into and reflection upon digital media. This process was, in many respects, prompted by my experience with The Pro Pinoy Project, which I will now turn to and talk about.

Pro Pinoy began in late 2009 as a volunteer-run web site that was intended to achieve the goal of increasing public awareness of the national and local elections that took place in May 2010, with a particular focus on the hotly contested race for the presidency. It was propelled by the idea that the ballot is the most powerful tool with which the future of the country could be secured.

The site served as an online database of news articles and blog posts on issues of national significance, as well on the track records and promises of the presidential candidates. Over the course of compiling content for publication, we sought to curate the data that they had gathered, occasionally selecting reports that were important but had not received much attention in either the mainstream or new media arenas. Of course, the veritable flood of election-related information was too much for us to keep up with, and therefore updates were made irregularly.

Following the relatively successful conduct of the elections, we decided that the site could serve as more than just a vehicle for voter education. As crucial as this task was, elections occur only once every three years, and, in any case, voting is only one aspect of citizenship. Good citizens must also be sufficiently informed and involved in everyday politics so that they are ready to hold all public servants to their duties, responsibilities, and promises, participate in the contentious process of nation-building themselves, and inspire others to do the same.

We re-launched the site in July 2010, this time offering original, syndicated, or partner-provided content, still mostly on news and current affairs. In February 2011, we decided to go the official route, establishing Pro Pinoy as a non-stock, non-profit corporation.

Pro Pinoy is a very young organization—we turned a year old just a few days ago—but I’m happy to say we’ve managed to rack up a few accomplishments in the short time that we’ve been operating. We have a great team—I’m not saying that just because I’m part of it—producing excellent posts and have been able to form strategic partnerships with other groups. Some of the content that we’ve published, such as the position paper on the broadband capping issue I mentioned earlier, has been cited by mainstream media outfits, and we were recognized in 2010 by the Philippine Blog Awards as the winner in the Society, History, and Politics category. We’ve also managed to maintain a good level of site traffic, even on slow days, and have a fairly active, if not always pleasant, comments section.

Some of our future plans include: redesigning the site, which is ongoing; increasing our lifestyle content; exploring multimedia content options; participating in and facilitating seminars and workshops; and focusing on community news, and it is in that last area that I think all of us here will be able to collaborate: we would be more than happy to help you tell your stories about what is taking place in your neighborhood and your organization.

What exactly does Pro Pinoy do? We’re engaged in what has been called “participatory journalism”. In point of fact, there are several terms for this practice, such as “citizen journalism”, “guerrilla journalism”, “networked journalism”, “open source journalism”, and “street journalism”, and one question that might immediately spring to mind is, “Is it even journalism?” My answer: “At its best, yes, it is journalism.”

Participatory journalism is defined by media consultants Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis in their paper We Media as follows: “[It is] the act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information.” This runs the gamut from taking part in a text poll to undertaking investigations of an issue, and marks a departure from the relatively linear news model, which involves a media organization, influenced to some degree by advertisers, filtering and packaging information first before delivering it via a platform, such as a newspaper or a television show, to a mass audience.

In theory, members of the audience have always been able to speak back. If I want to react to a story, I can write a letter to the editor or express my response with my remote control or my wallet. What makes participatory journalism interesting and exciting, however, are all the conversations that take place simultaneously throughout the discursive environment, allowing the community to make itself felt in shaping news agendas.

I want to make it clear that participatory journalism is not a second-rate, trying hard copycat of traditional journalism, but a very different model altogether—one that is more about complementing, rather than competing with, how the business of news is being carried out by mainstream outfits. (Most of you probably don’t recognize this because you’re too young—it’s a screen capture of the legendary scene in Bituing Walang Ningning, where Cherie Gil throws a glass of water into Sharon Cuneta’s face.)

What, then, is participatory journalism for? Why do it? It allows for a more collaborative and more transparent process of information-gathering, admits a wider range of views, and facilitates the creation of richer, more intimate stories and conversations—the information we receive takes on tones and textures that it might not otherwise have, and therefore the quality and relevance of such is potentially higher. It also fosters in us a stronger sense of responsibility and control over our world, which is critical to a vibrant democracy.

2010 was actually an important turning point for participatory journalism, because for the first time in Philippine history, the Commission on Elections issued accreditation IDs to bloggers and online media organizations covering the elections—a development paralleled by the candidates’ incorporation of a wide array of digital tools, including social media, into their respective campaigns.

The Internet, as I’ve already shown, is a highly limited platform, and thus little that was done there could be said to have had dramatic impact on the outcome of the polls, but as Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist John Nery observed, “[...] what online does very well, even in the Philippine setting, is to create buzz. It [...] can certainly be used to create word of mouth, to pique public curiosity and interest, to drive old media coverage.”

The CMFR also weighed in, saying, “[The coverage of online sites] provided a deeper look into issues overlooked by the mainstream media [and] provided a holistic approach to understanding the 2010 elections by balancing the sensational reports with critical stories.”

The Internet, of course, has a long way to go before becoming a true game-changer: while a 2010 Pulse Asia survey conducted from February 21 to 25 showed that media was the most influential source of information in choosing a president (64%), the most influential medium was TV (56%).

It might be helpful at this juncture to go over some of the findings in a study conducted by communication consultancy firm EON, Inc. from May to June 2011. Called the “Philippine Trust Index”, it sought to measure the level of public trust in key institutions: the church, the government, private industries, non-government organizations, and the media.

Among the 500 respondents, 64% said that they trusted the media “Very Much” and “Somewhat Much”. Asked to express their trust in an array of media channels, the results (“Very Much” and “Somewhat Much”) were as follows: 74% for television; 68% for online news sites; 66% each for newspapers and radio; 47% for social networking sites; and 37% for blogs. The latter two figures present an obvious challenge for participatory journalism, which, after all, relies on and is generated by social networking sites and blogs.

What, according to the same study, are the key drivers of trust in media? Fifty-eight percent said truthfulness; 35% said adherence to fairness; 3% said balanced reporting of good and bad news; and 2% each said delivery of news with social relevance and other reasons. It does not seem unreasonable to infer, then, that barriers to trust for participatory journalism include lack of editorial oversight, unethical practices, and the refusal to take responsibility—barriers that are not unrelated to the problematic behaviors of mobbing and uncritical thinking that I discussed previously.

If you’ve been following the impeachment proceedings of Chief Justice Renato Corona online, you may be familiar with what befell Raissa Robles, a professional journalist and a blogger. The Manila correspondent for the South China Morning Post, Robles has been assiduously working to bring out into the open, via her blog, issues and materials that are related to the charges that have been filed against Corona, and her laudable efforts have earned her no small amount of controversy. Recently, accusations surfaced that Robles was the “small lady” who had given Rep. Reynaldo Umali, a member of the prosecution panel, photocopies of documents pertaining to Corona’s deposit accounts in Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank). The information spread very quickly in the Internet community, in the manner of many a sensational story, but what facilitated the rapid dissemination of this particular rumor was a popular citizen media site that reported it without bothering to verify with Robles herself, who had issued categorical denials through Twitter and, later, in her blog. Mulling over the incident, Robles criticized the site and said, “This first-hand experience has given me a ringside view of how gossip turns viral and mutates in the process. And how people feel they can say anything on the Internet without any consequences or care.”

What happened was appalling for us at Pro Pinoy, of course, not only because it was downright irresponsible, but also because it would have a detrimental effect on how the public perceives participatory journalism. That said, we are more than willing to face the challenges that lie ahead of us, and look forward to overcoming them as a team.

By now, I’m sure I’ve brought up more issues and questions than we have ready, final answers for. My purpose, however, is not to befuddle unto paralysis—as I said at the beginning of my talk, I think it important to be keenly conscious of our context. As would-be change-makers, it behooves us to be aware that the task of social transformation, particularly using digital means, is freighted not only with promise—which the succeeding speakers will doubtless be able to show in their respective presentations—but also with peril, and we cannot realize the one without dealing thoughtfully and carefully with the other.

Thank you very much.

In the Philippines, there is only One Media now

The University of Santo Tomas’ response to Marites Vitug’s article, asking “Did UST break rules to favor Corona” was rekindled yesterday. The University of Santo Tomas granted Corona a doctorate in civil law summa cum laude. Two things seem to be front and center: The University of Santo Tomas’ rights as an academic institution, and their statement questioning the online world.

This is the full statement for your reference via ABS-CBN News:

The university also invoked academic freedom as an autonomous higher educational institute (HEI), and said the UST consultant for graduate law programs had requested that the dissertation requirement be waived for Corona. However, it said the UST Graduate School Faculty Council turned this down.

“It imposed on the Chief Justice an equivalent requirement: to write a scholarly treatise on any subject related to his field, to be delivered in public and eventually published,” said UST.

“He dutifully fulfilled these in 2010. The quality and relevance of his paper, his answers to the questions raised during the public forum, and the eventual publication of his paper were all evaluated and for which he was given the necessary credits equivalent to a dissertation.

“Needless to say, since the university is an autonomous HEI, the other issues raised (his residency, the academic honor he received) are moot because these come under the institutional academic freedom of the University of Santo Tomas,” the UST said.

UST said it did not reply to Vitug’s query because it was at a loss on how to respond to “online journalism.” Rappler managing editor Glenda Gloria said they have been asking UST for comment since October 2011 but received no reply.

“Does anyone claiming to be an online journalist given the same attention as one coming from the mainstream press?” the UST statement said. “We understand that while Miss Vitug used to be a print journalist, she’s part of an online magazine, Newsbreak, which has reportedly been subsumed into ‘www.rappler.com.’ What’s that?

“Is that a legitimate news organization? What individuals and entities fund Newsbreak and Rappler? Do these outfits have editors? Who challenged Miss Vitug’s article before it went online so as to establish its accuracy, objectivity and fairness? Why was there no prior disclosure made? What gate-keeping measures does online journalism practice?”

First, let us talk about Academic freedom. The University of Santo Tomas’ academic freedom is on solid ground. Universities, according to @rom, a professor from the University of the Philippines, and an expert in new Media tweeted, “@cocoy UST’s “none of your business” stance in providing explanation for the degree is within their rights granted by academic freedom.”

@renaguila wrote, “@rom @cocoy there are such things and of these I am aware, but the rules of the institution should, I believe, explicitly permit them.”

@drbrainhacker tweeted, “@rom we’ve sat in UP council meetings & saw how hard it is to do stuff like waiving requirements for something sacred like honors and PhD.”

“@drbrainhacker yes but it is NOT impossible as some people think. as I have said, it must have passed UST’s faculty or UC equivalent,” @rom replied.

“@rom agreed. They should’ve stated from the start that they made an exception in his case & said for him no need for doctoral dissertation“.

“@drbrainhacker but I think they did – on the article, it said that instead of a dissertation, he was asked to do something instead.”

“@rom it would be nice if the Grad School responded right away.”

“@drbrainhacker yeah but as I have said, they don’t have to explain themselves to anyone but their faculty and academic community“.

“@rom a polite reply to ms vitug’s 5 month old query becoming of their university at least. Everyone is replying on their behalf“.

@SagadaSun (Dean Jorge Bocobo) injected, “@rom @cocoy Of course CJ Corona is a highly public and not controversial historical figure. Tsismis and commentary are implacable forces.”

From @PopiSunga’s perspective this leaves a bad taste. “@rom Sure, but they should note that’s also the line of reasoning of most actual diploma mills. @cocoy”.

“@PopiSunga But @rom is correct though. It is entirely within their academic freedom. @cocoy,” replied @FrancisAcero.

In response, @PopiSunga wrote, “@FrancisAcero I never said otherwise. I’m just saying that response is more often heard from diploma mills, not reputable unis. @rom @cocoy”,

It is clear that the University of Santo Tomas is well within its rights as an institution to grant Corona his degree. Whether or not he deserved it— is the business of the institution.

If the matter had stopped there, then it would have been much ado about nothing. The second statement lit a match head. The University of Santo Tomas sneered at the Online World. Was it willful ignorance, and an inability to comprehend what is happening in the world?

Let me repeat UST’s statement as quoted by ABS-CBN News,

“Does anyone claiming to be an online journalist given the same attention as one coming from the mainstream press?” the UST statement said. “We understand that while Miss Vitug used to be a print journalist, she’s part of an online magazine, Newsbreak, which has reportedly been subsumed into ‘www.rappler.com.’ What’s that?”

“Is that a legitimate news organization? What individuals and entities fund Newsbreak and Rappler? Do these outfits have editors? Who challenged Miss Vitug’s article before it went online so as to establish its accuracy, objectivity and fairness? Why was there no prior disclosure made? What gate-keeping measures does online journalism practice?”

So the online world went to side with Rappler.

In “UST: who is rappler.com,” I pointed out that though the brand is new, the people behind rappler has enough reputation to guarantee that this is an organization for journalists. Rappler or Newsbreak that preceded it for that matter isn’t some guy in his jammies— without “credentials” ranting about their version of history, and easily debunked. The foolishness when viral videos going viral is corrected with a douce of truth in the (im)balance.

On Twitter I wrote, “@rom But now they’re being defensive about it. Which gives the Vitug article a lot more mileage. It is a UST PR problem. They need better PR“.

@tonyocruz disagreed. “@cocoy @rom Actually, baligtad yata. The UST statement put Rappler in the defensive re online journ. Which is today’s de facto Twitter topic”.

“@tonyocruz @rom I disagree. Rapper wins. They just made a name for themselves overnight and UST/Corona handed it to them.”

“@cocoy that I agree. Mishandled by UST.”

@cocoy Its a matter of perspective., @tonyocruz replied.”

It is hard to call into question the credibility of the people behind Rappler. It is after all, a blog made by journalists. It betrays a lack of fundamental understanding of what blogging is. In this case, blogging the medium.

Blogging is no different from having a printing press. People can reasonably publish newspapers. In a seminar by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism told us that in the provinces it is very easy to do it. At the farthest regions of our nation, it can go as low as PHP3,000.00.

Blogging seem to be made for journalists. In New Bards, I wrote that in 2012, we will be seeing a convergence of old and new. There isn’t a gulf between the “Old” Media, and this “New” Media; the traditional media, and this social media. We are increasingly seeing that this is One Media. And in fact, we are already seeing this transformation in the United States with the Wall Street Journal having its own blog. The same could be said of MarketWatch, and Time Warner— a huge company now owns The Huffington Post. Now, we’re seeing the beginning of this in the Philippines.

In the Philippines we’re seeing the continued rise of the group blog, and we’re seeing that digital brands are being created. Without doubt, Rappler has made a name for itself overnight. I argued on twitter, that they win.

Steve Jobs was once quoted saying we’re descending into a nation of bloggers. He meant blogging the art without editors. A blogging form that throws out the basic rules of journalism, or writing for that matter.

See, for the longest time there seem to be a misunderstanding about the art, even by people who practice it. @marocharim wrote in blogging/journalism:

“For the longest time, many of us have fallen into the trap of thinking that blogging and journalism are two different things that threaten each other’s existence, or compromise each field’s reason for existing. It has always been a relationship of watching the watchdog, breathing down each other’s necks, and the relationship has always been by-and-large an antagonistic one. Traditional media has every reason to dislike bloggers for changing the media landscape from a firm foothold to a precarious position. Bloggers have every reason to dislike traditional media because of their lapses and a culture of individuality in the blogosphere.

The way I see it, blogging and journalism need not take the character of a binary opposition. Whatever conflict – real or invented – is only the result of a failure of either side to adapt to the changing dynamics of mass media. The demand lifts off from the very pages of Darwinian thinking: adapt, or perish.”

And so yes, as Jobs pointed out we need accountability. We need media to represent journalistic integrity. A blogger of all stripe needs to verify his information. The facts need to be in line— the who, the what, the where, the when, the why, and the how. This is something the profession of journalism teaches us. No matter how nimble you are, there is no excuse not to follow those rules, because they make sense. So bloggers of all stripe— whether we blog tech, politics, fashion, food or whatnut would do our art much service when we do follow these rules of journalism.

What bloggers can teach the profession of journalism is how to be nimble. They can write, publish video or audio anytime, anywhere, and they can build their own media empires. (I write blog pieces on an iPhone using PlainText+Dropbox for example).

Wouldn’t you agree that a blog, run by journalists practicing their profession would add value to the world? And so this is what the University of Santo Tomas seem to have failed to grasp with their statement. The incredulity of their statement betrays their ignorance of what our world is today, and going into the future— a moment in history with the largest explosion in human expression, ever. So it speaks of a PR failure.

“The weird part is that UST’s shooting the messenger,” @marocharim noted.

So the story isn’t about the University of Santo Tomas defending its academic freedom, or clearing the lack of impropriety on their part. The story now becomes, “University of Santo Tomas, shows ignorance, gives Online World the finger”. The winner in this is Rappler. They just made their bones. The winner is media in general, with blogging and journalism burying the hatchet. With journalism understanding that this blogging medium is a perfect fit for their profession. So it is just one media now. We’re all the better for it.

Our Kabayan problem and the nature of media

Is a former politician practicing journalism, journalism?

John Nery wrote this over at Philippine Daily Inquirer:

Noli de Castro was vice president for six years and a senator for three. Last November 8, some four months after leaving government service, he reassumed his role as principal anchor of the flagship ABS-CBN newscast, “TV Patrol.”

I have no objection to the so-called revolving door in journalism, the practice where journalists join government service for a time and then return to the profession. Done right, done with circumspection and utmost professionalism, both sides of the door can profit. I think, for example, of Salvador P. Lopez, journalist-turned-diplomat-turned-journalist. Government service benefited from his insight and erudition, his facility with words and his capacity for work. When he returned to newspapering (he wrote regularly for the Inquirer in its early years), his writing was deepened by his experience in government and diplomacy.

But De Castro, simply “Kabayan” (Countryman) to millions of Filipinos, reminds me that there are dangers to the revolving door; for one thing, it can give media’s audience an attack of vertigo.

Last week, I heard De Castro (on the dzMM simulcast of “TV Patrol”) introduce a news report by Jorge Cariño on former Gov. Jose Leviste’s evasion-of-sentence case. Cariño, a savvy reporter with good sources and an excellent manner of delivery, was reporting live from the New Bilibid Prison, after the first hearing on Leviste’s forays had been concluded. De Castro began by asking Cariño about the remarkable statements the former Batangas governor said during the hearing, and then immediately focused on Leviste’s claim about housing.

Apparently, Leviste had cast his net of blame wide, and implied that the government housing project constructed near the national prison had contributed to the current culture in the NBP, which allowed him to move in and out of prison with great ease.
But De Castro was, of course, housing czar during the last two-thirds of the Arroyo years, and his question was meant to prove that Leviste did not know what he was talking about. Perhaps Leviste really didn’t, but it struck me, while listening to De Castro, that he was using Cariño’s report to kill Leviste’s aspersions. In other words, he acted, and sounded, like a partisan.

I do not believe in journalistic objectivity; or, to be more precise, I subscribe to the view, defined by Kovach and Rosenstiel in “The Elements of Journalism,” that objectivity applies to the method that journalists use, not to the journalists themselves. (The analogy, I think first made in the 1920s, during the consequential debates between journalist Walter Lippmann and the philosopher John Dewey, was to the scientific method.) I did not therefore expect De Castro to feel unmoved by Leviste’s particular insinuation; at the same time, I did not expect him to use a news report as an opportunity to defend himself. In short, I expected him to act as a professional journalist, not as a former politician with a record to protect.

Is this an impossible ideal? I hope not, for all our sakes. Whether De Castro likes it or not, he was part of the Arroyo administration. (The ordering of events to persuade him to run for vice president in 2004 was a masterstroke of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s, and helped her win the election.) He will find himself fielding more and more adverse news reports, either on “TV Patrol” or on his radio program. If he continues to conduct himself as an ex-politician, should he still call himself a journalist?

John Nery has a valid argument.

So when is a journalist not a journalist? When is a politician a journalist? When is a journalist a politician? When is a media practitioner not media?

We have newspapers carrying politician-columnists. Fidel Ramos for instance has written a number of times for the Manila Bulletin. Mrs. Arroyo during her term hosted a television program. We have politicians who use media to convey their message. They have twitter accounts. Senator TG Guingona is one of the more revolutionary ones with a YouTube channel.

If you think this is a Filipino “problem”, or a Filipino issue, consider that Barack Obama has written a book. He has written for the Huffington Post, and he has Youtube broadcasts. Downing Street too use YouTube.

If Social media is media, does it make these people journalists just as We the People are often called, “Citizen Journalists?”

Where then do we draw the line? Is there a line that needs to be drawn?

It doesn’t begin or end with Noli de Castro because he is hardly the only former politician who is working in media or working as a journalist. Neither will he be the last. The man too needs to make his bread and cheese, and being a “journalist” is probably the only thing he is most comfortable with. So is de Castro a journalist or commentator?

Is there a difference between an opinion maker or one who simply conveys the news?

What happens when one is partisan, by the sheer nature of being a former politician?

What then is media? What then is journalism?

Hat tip: @felicitytan for the link.

A must-read for every citizen journalist out there

All information isn’t equal, not in quality or reliability.

~ Dan Gillmor


As print and broadcast give way to the Digital Age, the media are in upheaval. The changes have sparked fascination, confusion and peril—especially when it comes to news, which is so essential in democracies.

We need a media environment that serves us, both as individuals and as a society. Yet turmoil in journalism threatens our ability oversee the people who act on our behalf. Media participation is critical to avoiding this threat: not just to keep politicians in check but also to balance the power of the whole crazy range of people we rely on—police and doctors and energy executives and pharmaceutical researchers and bankers, and all the other people who make decisions that affect us without requiring or allowing our direct input. Solid journalism helps keep those people working on our behalf (and it keeps us honest, when we work on behalf of others).

The turmoil is inspiring large numbers of ideas and experiments from people who know the risks and want to help create a valuable media in this new century. The experiments fascinate me as a writer on media and the Internet, and they fascinate my students at New York University and Harvard. They differ in small and large ways, but most have at least one thing in common: They imagine trying to fix the supply of news, either by vetting or filtering sources in such a way as to preserve the old, relatively passive grazing habits of 20th century news consumers. [Boldface mine]

* * *

The excerpt above is from Clay Shirky’s foreword in Mediactive, a Creative Commons-licensed book that speaks to every blogger and citizen journalist out there about the great responsibilities of media creators, as well as our shared possibilities for moving forward in an information environment that causes confusion more than clarity. The book was written by Dan Gillmor, who runs the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University and who describes himself as “involved in citizen-media efforts, and am a blogger, author, media investor and co-founder of several online businesses.”

The book itself is a breakthrough because it adheres to the very principles that it espouses, especially that of demanding transparency, and is available for free on the site or as a downloadable PDF (of course, Kindle and Lulu versions are available, too). It sets a great example for every blogger, every blog collective, and everyone who dares call himself or herself a “citizen journalist” because, as well all know, unethical practices abound in this field. It shares principles for responsible citizen journalism, shares stories and case studies, and could very well be a handbook for this generation of media creators. I haven’t yet read the whole book, and I certainly have not been paid to endorse this, but I most certainly will read it and even donate on the site. We need to keep great things like this going.

In closing, let me share another excerpt–this time, from Mr. Gillmor’s introduction.


* * *

Welcome to 21st century media. Welcome to the era of radically democratized and decentralized creation and distribution, where almost anyone can publish and find almost anything that others have published. Welcome to the age of information abundance.

And welcome to the age of information confusion: For many of us, that abundance feels more like a deluge, drowning us in a torrent of data, much of whose trustworthiness we can’t easily judge. You’re hardly alone if you don’t know what you can trust anymore.

But we aren’t helpless, either. In fact, we’ve never had more ways to sort out the good from the bad: A variety of tools and techniques are emerging from the same collision of technology and media that has created the confusion. And don’t forget the most important tools of all—your brain and curiosity.

Many people who know me and my work may find what I just said ironic. After all, I’ve spent the past decade or more telling anyone who’d listen about the great promise of citizen media—democratized digital media tools and increasingly ubiquitous digital networks.

Make no mistake: I believe in the potential of citizen media more than ever, partly because I’ve seen some wonderful experiments that prove out the potential.

But the more thoughtful critics of citizen media aren’t wrong about their main point: All information isn’t equal, not in quality or reliability.

I care, as you probably do if you’ve picked up this book, about an undeniable reality: As media become more atomized, more and more unreliable information, or worse, makes its way into what we read, listen to and watch.

Still, I can’t contain my growing excitement about the opportunities for participation that digital media have given us. I suspect you share some of that energy, too. Whether you realize it or not, you’re almost certainly a media creator yourself to at least a tiny extent—and creative activity is intimately linked to the process of sorting out the good from the bad, the useful from the useless, the trustworthy from the untrustworthy.

Does this sound daunting? Relax. In reality, this is a much more natural and logical—and fun—process than you might be imagining.

At the risk of being too cute, I’ve mashed together two words—media and active—that describe my goal in this book, website and accompanying materials: I want to help you become mediactive. [Boldface mine]


“Mediactive.” In this day and age, in this society, do the responsible citizen journalists out there have any other choice?





Why the revolution will be tweeted

It was late Saturday afternoon on February 22, 1986 when Lieutenant Colonel Gringo Honasan called to his radio operators in Camp Aguinaldo, headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and ordered, “Joggers! Joggers!”

It was the code to regroup.

Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile would arrive by helicopter at Aguinaldo shortly after Honasan sent that call. They came to Aguinaldo to make a final stand. They came to Aguinaldo to die.

Before dawn of that day, Honasan after making final preparations at Enrile’s Dasmarinas village residence, he would lead a reconnaissance mission to Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the President of the Philippines, with the purpose of taking it. They would discover that Palace security was beefed up. President Marcos and his men had discovered the coup d’tat and had taken steps to secure the palace.

Hours later, Enrile, Honasan and their Reform the Armed Forces movement were desperate men holding on to their lives after failing at a military coup d’etat. Instead of running, they gathered to make their final stand at Camp Aguinaldo.

By six o’clock in the evening, Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos would join them at Camp Aguinaldo. Forty-five minutes later, both Enrile and Ramos would hold a joint press conference. “We are going down fighting,” Minister Enrile opened.

Enrile and Ramos formally withdrew their support from Ferdinand Marcos and signed their own death warrants.

In those dark times who knew what would have happened?

When the clock struck 9 that evening, Radio Veritas would air a call-to-arms from Manila Archbishop Cardinal Sin.

“Leave your homes now… I ask you to support Mr. Enrile, and General Ramos, give them food if you like, they are our friends.”

Four days later, more than a million– and some say closer to two million people would occupy the highway called EDSA, and make a bloodless revolution happen.

It was a watershed moment in history.  To put it in the proper context, it was a world technologically different from where we are today.   It was a time when people in the Philippines had to share phone lines.  There were no mobile phones, no SMS, and the Internet had not been commercialized, and the World Wide Web had not been invented yet.  It was the middle of the 1980s and hardly anyone had a computer at home.  It was the year Challenger exploded and that Voyager reached Uranus and IBM’s first laptop came off the line and into store shelves.

That revolution couldn’t have happened if Cardinal Sin took to the airwaves and asked people to go out to the streets.

The miracle year of Social Media

More than twenty years later, in Timothy Mc’Sweeney’s Dispatches from Manila, Robin Hemley would write,

Few countries can compete with the Philippines when it comes to corruption—it’s always near the top of the list of most-corrupt nations and the G20 nations recently blacklisted it, along with only three other countries, for its banking practices. In polls, Filipinos tag customs as the most corrupt department. And for good reason.

Over coffee one afternoon, a book-industry professional (whom I can’t identify) told me that for the past two months virtually no imported books had entered the country, in part because of the success of one book, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. The book, an international best seller, had apparently attracted the attention of customs officials. When an examiner named Rene Agulan opened a shipment of books, he demanded that duty be paid on it.

“Ah, you can’t be too successful in this country,” I said. “If you are, then people start demanding a cut.”

Hemley’s entry would light a powder keg. The Great Book Blockade of 2009 would be an online protest that would rock cyberspace. More than a dozen blogs would cover it. The discussion would rage on YouTube. It would trend on twitter. It would be a blip in local media, at the time more clueless than it is about what was happening online.

It wouldn’t be until people started doing something on the ground that would make things change. Calls to UNESCO, an email here, and an email there. The Philippines was violating an International treaty, of which it was a signatory.

President Arroyo relented. A year after the Great Book Blockade Victory Edition came out, the Department of Finance would be dragging its foot to implement the order. Yet that small measure of victory is a sign of the changing times.

On June 2, 2009, there came #ConAss.   The House of Representatives adopted House Resolution 1109, a resolution that sought to transform Congress into a Constituent Assembly. Much of Manila slept that night, unaware of the thievery that unfolded.   Mainstream media did not cover it for the most part. @caffeinesparks was there to chronicle the event as it unfolded.  Also, @mlq3 chronicled it as well. At the time, @faithlessphil tweeted,

Here is the thing: I’m FOR a constitutional revision. Our joke of a senate is enough reason for change. But Jesus, not this way.

The following week something else happened— this time on the world scale. United States President Barack Obama said to CNBC and the Washington Post quoted him as saying,

“when you’ve got 100,000 people who are out on the streets peacefully protesting, and they’re having to be scattered through violence and gunshots, what that tells me is the Iranian people are not convinced of the legitimacy of the election. And my hope is that the regime responds not with violence, but with a recognition that the universal principles of peaceful expression and democracy are ones that should be affirmed.”

SC Magazine— a site for IT Security professionals published on June 15 how real the Iranian Cyber Protest was.  Denial of Service Attacks against Iranian government websites.  While not exactly a staging area for the attacks, Twitter and Facebook became a place were tools could be passed on to help in the attacks.  It was following this that Ahmadinejad started to block the Internet, and some reported that Twitter email and Facebook accounts were hacked.  Iranian TV started to broadcast movies with no mention of what was happening on the ground.

Iran Election would be the first time n00bs came into play.

The threat was real. The activity was real. The action on Twitter, and on Facebook were real.

This was the Internet fighting back.  Philip Elmer-Dewitt for Time on December 6, 1993 article titled, “First nation in Cyberspace,” quoted John Gilmore who aptly put it, “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.”

Looking back, 2009 was an Annus mirabilis for social media.

The power of information networks

The year 2009 also saw a Typhoon Ondoy (international codename Ketsana) strike the Philippines.  It was on Twitter and Facebook that initially helped connect people, information and resources together.   What followed it, people started to get organized on the ground.  News flowed.  Families got reunited.  Once the Information Network was able to get people together, it reached a Critical Mass and it became a nervous center of activity.

Ondoy was was an online community spirit in action.  It was a phenomena that Filipinos call, “Bayanihan,” and that nervous system ran under the power of Information Network to effect real change in the world.

The power and indispensability of information networks would once more be tested in the opening months of 2010 when the world saw the crisis in Haiti.  The devastation was great and the first thing rescuers did was to establish a communications network.  People need to talk with each other.  The government needed to talk to its branches.  The NGOs needed to talk to government.  The Civilian leadership needed to have a conversation with the Military.  The interactive maps that went online helped rescuers and relief workers to get the proper resources to the right areas.  People trapped under the rubble sent text messages and in turn, rescuers were able to find them.

If knowledge is power then the Information Network is a powerful and indispensable tool in Disaster Relief.

The Obama campaign

In the 2008 US presidential election, the Obama campaign created their own social network.  They used social media to interact with volunteers, to spread the word, to get organized, to get more and more people to vote.   It was on twitter, on Facebook, on their mailing list, and the campaign was able to bring this all back to their website.  That social networking prowess delivered Obama victory in the primaries and victory in the presidential election by raising voter awareness, by being able to raise campaign donations and by creating a community.

The Philippine 2010 Presidential campaign

The 2010 Philippine Presidential campaign saw something different happen.  Social Media came into play for the first time in Philippine politics— albeit a minor one in the battle.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism called it, “Death Stars, black hats online around 2010 elections.”  The people on the Web, the article suggested were seduced by the campaigns.  The piece raised a call for regulating the practice online.

Of course the election created a different theater of war.  While it wasn’t the deciding battle field, each side had their own Social Media campaigns, blogs and YouTube videos became Star Destroyers and Capital Ships.  Facebook pages and Tumblr blogs became cruiser analogs, while tweets— well they’re the X-Wings and Tie-Fighters and their pilots were Jedi Knights and Sith Lords, troopers and droids.

Much of the negativity during the campaign spawned online.  The fight was real and quite often pitting friends against friends, simply because of the sides they choose to represent.  Of course in most cases it isn’t news that is being relayed on the blogosphere, but more opinion.

Some wanted to frame the battle for the Philippine presidential palace in the same terms as the Obama campaign.  It was a foolish and utterly romanticized.  As the State of the Internet in the Philippines, broadband penetration isn’t that influential and that broadcast television more than newspapers and the Internet would carry the issues of the day.

In the final analysis the Theater of War online was more a matter of perception, of bragging rights.  It did not carry the war, but it sure supported the ground campaign that was being waged and where ultimately it was won.

A hashtag revolution

Recently, Malcom Gladwell of the New Yorker wrote, “Small Change.”  He expressed concern that these online protests was shallow.  The Marocharim Experiment added, “The point is that one of these days, social media-led activism will have to demand the same sacrifices and commitments necessary for revolution to take place.  To elicit the curiosity is one thing, and to solicit the action is another.  Until we start demanding more from ourselves than blog posts and Twibbons and hashtags, until we’re willing to bite out more than a few bytes for a GIF and a megabyte of posting, then the revolutionaries will not be tweeting.”

What have we learned in the lessons of the Great Book Blockade, of #conass, Iran Election, of Ondoy, of the Obama Campaign, of the Social Media Campaign during the Philippine Presidential elections?

Something related also transpired when Seth Godwin talked about how charities weren’t doing the ground work:

Do you know what they wanted to to know? “When was the next time we can rally a lot of people to get more votes and donations?” Do you know what not one of them asked? “How can we get our supporters to actually lay some groundwork so we can make this sort of money every week?

Even veterans in the game often forget this.  It was buzz-kill for Leo Laporte.  He neglected his blog for the longest time and used social media as his pulpit, but what he learned was those social tools is just a way for people to find him and redirect them to his brand.

What most people are missing out on two lessons of the Social Media campaigns.  First, they can create Information Networks— where communities spring up to accomplish a mission like what happened during Ondoy, the Obama Campaign and Haiti.   The second is what John Nery described as, “creating a buzz,” which is essentially piquing interest, and driving mainstream media conversation.

What Gladwell, the Marocharim Experiment, are pointing out is that— for some people the banners and the ribbons is the end all of things.  And people are missing out on the fact that creating awareness is great, but doing the ground work is essential for victory.

Manolo Quezon in his speech, New Media and Democracy said,

“The House of Representatives did what everyone expected it do, which was, to wriggle its way out of ratifying the Freedom of Information Act.

The online response was peppery and immediate. But it was like a pebble thrown into a pond; the ripples radiated from the House of Representatives and then vanished: not least because how many in officialdom even encounter New Media on a regular basis?”

To a certain extent, The Great Book Blockade was able to create buzz, but it needed hard work on the ground to accomplish the changes like calling UNESCO, sending out letters and making policy makers aware of the situation.   The same thing happened with the Aquino campaign— they played the Social Media game well, but more importantly, it was the stump that eventually brought Aquino over the top.

To put it simply, to create a Facebook fan page is like having a full page advertising drawn up for a major newspaper citing your support for a particular cause.   It isn’t the cause.

Twitter is the new Batsignal

As the world enters an Age of Augmented Humanity where the handled devices we carry around is our gateway into Information Networks and Social Media— it becomes easier to connect just as we now must put social media into its proper context.   These are great tools for social change, but just a tool and not a magic bullet. The challenge for policymakers and civil rights group is to guarantee that Connection to be sacred as much as Freedom of Speech is held sacred.  The challenge for marketers, and revolutionists would be to use Social Media as a Communications tool that brings people back to the brand, or to rally them behind the battle standard and effect real change on the ground.

Cardinal Sin’s message aired over Radio Veritas did not win EDSA, but it was like in the field of battle, a General summoning his troops to rally behind a standard.   So too will Twitter and Facebook and social networking be the match that light the powder keg.  Social Media, particularly the likes of Twitter and Facebook are the new Radio Veritas, only now everyone gets to use it.

“Twitter is the Batsignal,” American entrepreneur Jason Calicanis would often repeatedly say and tweet.  The revolution will be tweeted, but the revolution will not be won by tweets alone. The Revolution will always be won, with blood, toil, sweat and tears.

Syndicated from Cocoy Chronicles

Mulat Pinoy's Pop Media Fellows announced

Mulat Pinoy’s Pop Media Fellows announced

Population affects people in different ways. From a housewife allotting a daily budget to feed a family of seven, to a fresh graduate seeking employment, or a doctor experiencing a particularly toxic shift at a public hospital– a nation of 90 million has a wealth of stories to be told.

Four such stories will get the spotlight in the coming months, thanks to the Mulat Pinoy media fellowship. Run by the Probe Media Foundation and Philippine Center for Population and Development, the media fellowship aims to encourage both traditional and new media practitioners to turn their critical eye on issues of population and development. The fellowship was open to all traditional media, and also included categories for new media initiatives like blog posts, podcasts, and infographics.

The Mulat Pinoy Media Fellows are: Renato Ilupa, DXSO Radyo ng Bayan Marawi; Gideon Isidro, Philippines Daily Inquirer-2BU; Antonio Manaytay, Zamboanga Sibugay Tribune and Inside Mindanao; and Ana Santos, SexandSensibilities.com (SAS) and Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). [Ana Santos also happens to be a contributor to Pro Pinoy - editor]

The fellows’ projects will focus on various aspects of population and development. Santos touches on reproductive health policies and its implications for women, while Manaytay probes into the lives of coal miners in Mindanao. Meanwhile, Ilupa and Isidro will use multiple media to share their population stories. Isidro talks about youth issues via print and video, while Ilupa’s feature on RH for Muslims will be presented via print and radio. Fellows are expected to work on–and publish–their stories in time for the culminating workshop on November 6.

Mulat Pinoy media fellows were selected by a panel of seasoned journalists and popdev experts, including: Prof. Melba Orense, UP Diliman College of Mass Communication; Jaileen Jimeno, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism; Rose Marcelino, NCR director of the Philippine Population Commission; Jay Jay Orense, TV5 News and Public Affairs program manager; and Dr. Zelda Zablan of the UP Population Institute.

– – – – – – – – – –

Contact: Mulat Pinoy: Popdev and Social Media
Telephone Number: (02) 433 04 56
Email: [email protected]
Web: www.mulatpinoy.ph, www.probefound.com

About Probe Media Foundation: www.probefound.com

The Probe Media Foundation, Inc. (PMFI) is a non-stock, non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of media in the Philippines and in the Asia-Pacific region through training of professional and aspiring media practitioners.

About PCPD: www.pcpd.ph

The Philippine Center for Population and Development, Inc. (PCPD) believes that a better understanding of the relationship between population and development will empower Filipino families to make informed decisions and actions that will result in an improved quality of life.  The Center, a private, grant-making foundation supports research, advocacy and model projects on population and development in the Philippines.

Evaluating the Impact of New Media on Conflict, a webcast

Blogs and Bullets: Evaluating the Impact of New Media on Conflict
United States Institute of Peace (USIP)

Please note: This event will be webcast live beginning at 9:00am EDT on July 8, 2010 at www.usip.org/webcast.html. Online viewers will be able to engage panelists and each other through live chat and Twitter discussions (hashtag: #usipblogs).

The Center of Innovation for Science, Technology, and Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace and George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication are hosting a public event exploring the role of new media in contested politics around the world. From Iran to Kenya to Colombia, the impact of new and social media on movements for political and social change has been the subject of much discussion, and controversy.

In a USIP Special Report to be released at the conference, a team of scholars from GWU, in cooperation with scholars from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and from Morningside Analytics, take a fresh theoretical, and empirical approach to answering this question.The report critically assesses both the “cyberutopian” and “cyberskeptic” perspectives, and proposes a new framework for assessing the role of new media in contentious politics.

This event will explore these themes in three panels. In the first morning panel, Alec Ross of the U.S. State Department, Berkman’s Ethan Zuckerman, and GWU’s Marc Lynch will engage in a discussion of these topics moderated by USIP’s Sheldon Himelfarb. The second morning panel will feature bloggers and citizen journalists from around the world to offer a ground-view perspective. The final panel will bring together tech firms like Google, eBay, and Facebook to explore their perspectives on new media and conflict.


8:30 am – 9:00 am: Registration/ Breakfast

9:00 am – 9:10 am: Introductory Remarks: Sheldon Himelfarb, Executive Director, Center of Innovation for Science, Technology, and Peacebuilding, USIP

9:10 am – 10:15 am: Panel 1

  • Alec Ross
    Senior Adviser for Innovation, Office of the Secretary of  State
  • Marc Lynch
    Director, Institute for Middle East Studies, George Washington University
  • Ethan Zuckerman
    Senior Researcher, Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society
  • Sheldon Himelfarb
    United States Institute of Peace (Moderator)

10:15 am – 10:30 am: Break

10:30 am – 11:45 am: Panel 2: International Bloggers

  • Mialy Andriamananjar (Madagascar)
  • Raed Jarrar (Iraq)
  • Onnik Krikorian (Armenia)
  • Nasseem Tarawnah (Jordan)
  • Hamid Tehrani (Iran)
  • Abu Aardvark (Moderator)

11:45 am – 12:00 pm: Break

12:00 pm – 1:00 pm: Panel 3

  • Colin Rule
    Director of Online Dispute Resolution, eBay
  • Bob Boorstin
    Director of Public Policy, Google
  • Facebook
    [Personnel TBD]
  • Sheldon Himelfarb
    United States Institute of Peace (Moderator)


George Washington University Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication