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

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

  • manuelbuencamino

    I guess tweeting a revolurion is an evolutionary step higher than what the militants are still doing. If it works, why not?