The unbearable lightness of Mocha

If nothing else, these petitions to suspend Mocha Uson’s blog ought to be taken as a cue by the Social Weather Stations and PulseAsia to find out whether Filipinos are getting more and more intolerant of free speech. Last year, the New York magazine published an article on pretty much the same topic, initially indicating that millennial were increasingly in favour of governmental controls on free speech. In a later article (the one linked to above) the same author course corrected and warned that, after studying past survey results, there was simply not enough evidence to suggest his initial assessment. From a purely sociological point of view, it’d be good to find out how Filipinos stack up.

IN the meantime, here we are with growing clamor to clamp down on the unbearable lightness of Mocha’s fingers when typing out what many consider to be misinformation. Near as I can tell, that’s really the casus belli for this petition: that Mocha has been using her blog to spread falsehoods and various other violations of Facebook’s Terms of Service.

The Policy Landscape

This is a very interesting development, to say the least, considering the huge impact Mocha’s blog has had on rallying the faithful, not just to greater faithfulness but apparently also on driving those faithful to ‘attack’ critics and dissenters. And, in the latest kerfuffle involving a school publication’s lampoon edition, potentially exposing the publication’s editor in chief to online bullying.

Since the initiative against Mocha’s blog is premised on its contents being a species of hate speech, here’s what Facebook itself says about the matter, under the heading “Encouraging Respectful Behaviour >> Hate Speech.

What really jumps out at you when you click that link is Facebook’s very well-defined parameters for what it is willing to call hate speech.

Hate Speech

Facebook removes hate speech, which includes content that directly attacks people based on their: race; ethnicity; national origin; religious affiliation; sexual orientation; sex, gender or gender identity; or serious disabilities or diseases.

Seems pretty restrictive, doesn’t it? For good reason. Facebook goes on to explain:

People can use Facebook to challenge ideas, institutions and practices. Such discussion can promote debate and greater understanding. Sometimes people share content containing someone else’s hate speech for the purpose of raising awareness or educating others about that hate speech. When this is the case, we expect people to clearly indicate their purpose, which helps us better understand why they shared that content.

We allow humour, satire or social commentary related to these topics, and we believe that when people use their authentic identity, they are more responsible when they share this kind of commentary. For that reason, we ask that Page owners associate their name and Facebook Profile with any content that is insensitive, even if that content does not violate our policies. As always, we urge people to be conscious of their audience when sharing this type of content.

In the end, it would appear that Facebook advocates a certain degree of self-help.

While we work hard to remove hate speech, we also give you tools to avoid distasteful or offensive content. Learn more about the tools we offer to control what you see. You can also use Facebook to speak up and educate the community around you. Counter-speech in the form of accurate information and alternative viewpoints can help create a safer and more respectful environment.

In other words, use Facebook’s filters, and counter the objectionable content with your own content, setting the record straight. Expounding on these concepts, in March of last year, the New York Times published this story on Facebook’s official approach to requests for suspension of accounts.

But Facebook wants to take into account the full context of a post, Ms. Bickert said. For example, a victim of a violent attack might post images on Facebook as a way of raising public awareness. “Sometimes the best way to share information about atrocities in the world is Facebook,” she said. “We recognize that is a very challenging issue.”

Although the quote specifically refers to atrocities being posted on Facebook, noteworthy is the emphasis being placed on self-help and giving the widest latitude to even unpopular speech. Interestingly, an  article on Chron also maintains:

Facebook also prohibits you from using their site to harass, bully, threaten or in any way discriminate against another.

More recently, Facebook has launched a crackdown on fake news. Given that one of the complaints against Mocha’s blog is that she is spreading disinformation, this raises the question of whether her blog might possibly be considered fake news. In my opinion, however, this seems far-fetched since Mocha doesn’t represent the content on her blog as “news” per se, but merely “commentary.” that is to say, her own unique take on the news.

The Issue At Hand

A review of the policy landscape leaves a lot of unanswered questions as to the fate of the petition to suspend Mocha’s blog. First off, there is the issue of whether the blog will fall under any of Facebook’s criteria for suspension. And then there is the fact that Facebook does ultimately reserve the right to exercise its own judgement. These two subjective factors make it very difficult to predict where Facebook will go with this. Which leaves us with the more pressing issue at hand: regardless of how Facebook finally rules on the matter, is the petition to suspend Mocha’s blog a free-speech issue?

Both sides of the debate make compelling points. On the one hand, proponents readily concede Mocha’s freedom to express her opinions, but argue that the right of free speech is not without it’s limitations. On the other hand, those who stand opposed to the petition – many of them with no love lost for Mocha themselves – point out that the petition is tantamount to content based restriction, also known as censorship. Disregarding the raging, the rabid, and the dilettantes among their respective ranks, both sides of the argument have attracted well-grounded and reasonable adherents. In that respect alone, this sort of confrontation would make for a good Supreme Court case.

In the absence of Supreme Court intervention, however, this problem is left to us netizens to figure out for ourselves. I have the sense that this debate has the potential to irretrievably cleave us in twain. Whether that happens or not, this moment will definitely have far reaching repercussions for social media.

My Position Questions

To be perfectly frank, I am still on the fence about this. I am aware that the freedom of speech is not absolute. I am also  not blind to the practical effects of Mocha’s writings despite the florid quality to them. Part of me says that the reaction to Mocha’s writings represents an organic response that is both natural and inevitable. That’s the part of me that constantly reminds me that up till now, I have not given Mocha’s blog much thought simply because I have not been reading it and I have basically ignored the comments that are spawned by it.

But then again, I have never been personally affected by it either. I accept that if I were ever on the receiving end of the kind of massive abuse from the faithful as others have been, I might conceivably join the chorus calling for it to be shut down. We are all Utopians by nature, I suppose, until we are made aware that Utopia does not exist.

Yet another part of me still forcefully rejects this possibility, however, and maintains that I should be able to keep the faith with the core concept of freedom of expression, regardless of personal cost. This is the part of me that insists we must examine this petition using certain standards that call for the application of cold neutrality.

For instance, do Mocha’s writings present some sort of clear and present danger to persons and society as a whole? This is particularly relevant considering the ease with which social media attacks can be side-stepped. As many have pointed out, one need simply to learn to ignore comments. After all, the freedom of speech does not include a guarantee against contrary opinions. Comments sections can be turned off, twitter trolls can be blocked, and so on. There is no shortage of filters that can be availed of.

However, some have also raised the possibility of some deranged faithful who might suddenly decide that it isn’t enough to rant online, that knives need blooding and bullets need to find soft flesh. This does pose a threat to safety and will adversely impact one’s ability to express one’s self freely. Unfortunately, the argument can also be made that this is an inchoate concern which cannot be allowed to dictate policy. That it isn’t wrong either.

And then there is the argument that, even if Mocha’s Facebook blog is indeed shut down, what will prevent her from starting up another blog, on another platform? This speaks to the ability of the proposed solution to adequately solve the problem. Clearly, it cannot.

Compromises and Concessions

No, this is not an issue easily resolved. Inevitably, coming down on one side or another will require compromises to be made – either to principle or to psychological comfort, both of which are ultimately essential determinants of how we move forward.

I apologize for this inconclusive end to a very long post, but at this critical juncture, we cannot afford to see the world only in stark black or blinding white. Without a doubt, Mocha has opened a fault line, and the ramifications of this issue are simply too far reaching for such unequivocal-ness and simplistic affirmations of freedom of speech … for now at least.

If anything, I would caution careful deliberation. And perhaps a good night’s sleep.

 

 

PS. This debate demolishes all doubt as to Mocha’s relevance. So, maybe now all you slut shaming doofuses can just pack up and quit, aight?

 

 

 

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