10/21/2016

A wolf in sheep’s clothing

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It is everyone’s responsibility to be accountable for what they say on the Internet, and blogger Mocha Uson is no exception. She was recently accused of cyberbullying the editor in chief of Matanglawin, the official student newspaper of the Ateneo de Manila University in Filipino. The publication lampooned her popular Facebook page on the cover of their annual satirical issue (which has lampooned former President Benigno Aquino III and online media outlet Rappler) typically entitled “Tanganglawin,” but this year it was entitled “Mochang Tanga Blog.” Mocha obviously wasn’t pleased about this, and reacted by deciding to post the editor in chief’s Facebook profile on her page — effectively threatening his privacy and potential safety. This came across as an act of pride and cowardice, and is as disgusting as the slut-shaming and intellect-shaming Uson is subjected to on a daily basis. This is an incident that shouldn’t be forgotten, and shouldn’t be forgiven until she apologizes.

While Uson’s original post (which included the editor’s personal details) has been taken down, she continues to bash Matanglawin as of press time without any sort of acknowledgement of or remorse for the fact that she publicly threatened a student. But this wasn’t just a spontaneous outburst by an immature public figure. It’s clear from the way that Uson’s post was worded that she knew exactly what she was doing. She wanted her 4.3 million followers to get even angrier with Matanglawin, so she manipulated them into spewing vitriol against a magazine many of them may have never read. It’s as if she knew that putting the security of Matanglawin’s editor in chief at risk would also serve as a threat to all student publications — warning them that they are not allowed to even suggest criticism against her or the current administration lest they be publicly attacked.

She has now made it seem especially risky for student-run publications and newspapers to speak up about relevant issues. Suddenly, there is pressure and fear that wasn’t there before — pressure to tread a little lighter around hot-button issues. There is now fear that these students’ dreams of journalistic integrity and honesty can be so easily trampled on by angry, ignorant Facebook users who refuse to give them a chance to speak. I have no doubt that these student journalists are strong in their resolve, but a relentlessly angry mob can strike fear into the hearts of anybody.

There is now fear that these students’ dreams of journalistic integrity and honesty can be so easily trampled on by angry, ignorant Facebook users who refuse to give them a chance to speak.

Uson has managed to do all this by literally judging a book by its cover. The actual contents of “Mochang Tanga Blog” (which Mocha clearly hasn’t read) ultimately don’t even have all that much to do with Mocha herself. It would seem that all she had as evidence was the issue’s cover, and yet she spun it into a reinforcement of the narrative that mainstream media is oppressing her — instantly winning the sympathy of her followers. The language that she employed in the post also made it difficult for Facebook to take down her post on the grounds of cyber-bullying.

I genuinely believe that Mocha Uson is intelligent. It’s just that her intelligence takes a more sinister, manipulative form. As much as many of her critics would like to consider her harmless, she has clearly demonstrated her capacity to silence anybody she disagrees with. Even if these people are speaking within their own circles — Mochang Tanga Blog was, after all, only circulated inside Ateneo —, she has the power to force them from their private spheres and into the public, where she can falsely label them as libelous. And before anyone can point out that these publications are satirical, she will already have 4.3 million angry followers on her side, ready to punish the so-called “presstitutes” with verbal abuse and invasion of privacy. That makes her potentially very dangerous. For all her actions, she needs to be made accountable.

To anyone trying to shed light on places where others will not allow them to go, may you never succumb to the oppression of silence. So long as you remain committed to honesty, your voices are the ones we need to hear.

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