Politicos and social media

THE late Senator Genaro Magsaysay, who served two terms in the Senate in the 1960s, was well known for his philosophy: “No talk, no mistake.” His dictum, expressed at a time when the Internet was still being built on the back of an obscure US Defense Department program, seems even more salient today, when social media and online commentary play an increasingly important role in politics.

The Liberal Party candidate for president, Manuel Roxas II, was made acutely aware of this last week, when he drew heavy fire for a post on his Facebook page recalling the Sept. 9, 2013 siege of Zamboanga City where more than 200 people died and 100,000 people were displaced in three weeks of urban warfare between government forces and rebels belonging to the Moro National Liberation Front.

“Hi, fellow veterans of the Zamboanga siege, Happy anniversary!” Roxas said in the original post. “Just wanted to take a moment and reflect and thank you for your leadership and commitment to welfare of our people and country. Maraming salamat. Being with you all those 21 days has touched me indelibly. Know that our country stands strong and our flag flies high because of you and the men and women like you. We battle on! Mabuhay ang Pilipinas.”

When it became apparent that the flippant greeting angered many Zamboanga residents who felt it was insensitive and disrespectful, the words “happy anniversary” were edited out minutes later.

Trying to do damage control, Roxas later said he only wished to greet Zamboanga residents and government forces for their unity and determination to keep peace and order in the city during the siege.

“It was in this sense that I greeted our compatriots and comrades. To those who may have taken offense, none was intended,” he said.

In the United States, presidential aspirant Donald Trump has been generally unapologetic for his instances of online foot-in-mouth disease. But last week, a two-year-old tweet from his Twitter account vanished on the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The deleted 2013 tweet read: I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th.”

Taking note of the deletion, the international human rights group Access criticized Twitter for disabling Plitwoops, a tool to keep track of politicians’ deleted tweets.

“Every day, politicians make decisions that affect all of us,” said Deji Olukotun of Access. “We need to know what’s in their heads yesterday, today, and beyond. We can’t depend on how they spin it later….That’s why we need Politwoops. We can’t let public officials delete their past.”

On the Plitwoops website (, Christopher Gates, president of the Sunlight Foundation, related how Twitter reversed its decision to allow the group to curate deleted tweets from US lawmakers and those seeking public office in June.

“When we launched Politwoops three years ago, our goal was to create accountability and a public record for the messages elected officials and candidates for president, vice president, Congress and governor published on social media, particularly those public statements they delete,” Gates wrote.

“What our elected officials say is a matter of public record, and Twitter is an increasingly important part of how our elected officials communicate with the public…

“Unfortunately, Twitter’s decision to pull the plug on Politwoops is a reminder of how the Internet isn’t truly a public square. Our shared conversations are increasingly taking place in privately owned and managed walled gardens, which means that the politics that occur in such conversations are subject to private rules.”

In August, Twitter announced that it was suspending API access to all remaining Politwoops sites in 30 countries around the world.

The Open State Foundation, which promotes digital transparency, decried Twitter’s decision.

“Politwoops began in the Netherlands in 2010 at a hackathon. Since then it has been further developed by Open State Foundation, turning it into a useful tool for journalists and spreading it to 30 countries, from Egypt, Tunisia, Greece, the UK and France to the Vatican and the European Parliament. In 30 countries, it automatically monitored politicians’ profiles (elected members of national parliaments) for deleted tweets and made them visible,” the organization said in a statement.

Its director, Arjan El Fassed, added: “What elected politicians publicly say is a matter of public record. Even when tweets are deleted, it’s part of parliamentary history... What politicians say in public should be available to anyone. This is not about typos but it is a unique insight on how messages from elected politicians can change without notice.”

Here in the Philippines, monitoring what politicians say and later delete online is no less important to the democratic process.

This is particularly true as more politicians take their messages online. Already, more than half of the 290 active legislators in the House of Representatives and all of the 24 senators have Facebook pages—even though most of them just upload photos when they do update those pages. Chin Wong


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