Secretary Mar Roxas’ disputation with Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez a few days after Yolanda devastated his city has turned out to be a milestone, not only because it marks the total annihilation of the presidential ambitions of President Aquino’s purported political heir. The video of Roxas’ confrontation with Romualdez is the first time that social media has eclipsed the perspective of traditional, mainstream media.
Social media has surpassed traditional media as the main source of information—and therefore opinion—on this government’s early responses to catastrophe caused by the super typhoon.
Consider the facts. The video was first posted on YouTube December 9 by columnist Cito Beltran and Romualdez’ father-in-law Jose Ma. Gonzalez. The video had Roxas telling Romualdez, who then appeared stunned by the devastation of his city: “You have to understand you are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino so we just want to legalize if not legalized well ok you are in charge we help you but that’s it, bahala kayo sa buhay n’yo.”
I would think that considering the horror caused by Yolanda—deaths now would likely reach 10,000 as the Tacloban police chief had estimated, and for which he was fired for his guess—and the mammoth work needed to rehabilitate Leyte and Samar, Roxas’ politicization of the rescue tasks and his cantankerous attitude towards the Tacloban city officials were certainly big news. This is especially so since Roxas’ less-than-supportive attitude could explain why national government’s response in the first week of the crisis was slow and inadequate that rotting corpses were uncollected for days.
Viral in social media: Including other versions of the video, Roxas’ “bahala kayo sa buhay nyo” video viewed by a million Filipinos.
Since that day though up to this writing, all of the biggest newspapers and television networks downplayed the video and its implications, either totally ignoring it, giving Roxas (and yesterday President Aquino) more space or time to refute Romualdez, burying in their inside pages, or downplaying it as the minor news of the day.
However, in social media, shared through Facebook postings, e-mailed links to it, and viewed in YouTube the video was making history.
As of this writing, the video—in its different lengths – was viewed 915,211 times in just five days, obviously on its way to the one million mark, a milestone in Philippine social media. The second most viewed non-entertainment video? GMA News’ “24 Oras” segment entitled “Mayor Romualdez, inireklamo ang kulang naayuda ng pamahalaan sa Tacloban” with 135,786 views.
While it is not rare for music videos in the country to hit the one million mark in views, it certainly is exceptional for a non-entertainment video. Those that media often tag as ‘viral’ often have only at about 5,000 views.
In contrast, one video posted by a television network devoted to Roxas’ response to the Romualdez claims—that he just didn’t want government’s actions in Tacloban to be “misconstrued”—had only 4,798 views. Another had only 208 views.
What does it mean for the Roxas-Romualdez video to be viewed by one million Filipinos?
It could simply be a quirk, propelled by the fact that so many Filipinos wanted to find out whether Roxas—tipped by Aquino camp to be the next president—did or did not make those scandalous, threatening statements during a most difficult time for Tacloban. And those who found out told their friends to check out the video for themselves.
It could mean Filipinos have been deeply concerned about the tragedy caused by Yolanda, and they wanted to find out how local and national governments responded to the crisis.
I would think though that the Roxas-Romualdez video is the first demonstration in our country of the power of social media in breaking a regime’s control of traditional media, even motivating oppressed peoples to revolt, as has been the case in the so-called Arab spring, and more recently in Ukraine and even Thailand.
(To compare, and contrast, the Million People March August 26 was also an demonstration of social media, which organized it. However, the information and the political issue the mobilization was based on however was generated almost entirely by traditional media, initially and mainly by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said to be the biggest and most influential newspaper in the country.)
Demystify yourself of romantic notions about the wisdom of the masses. The masses get their political views from two sources: (1) their superiors, either formally or culturally, i.e., a laborer would tend to believe what his boss says, or what somebody in the upper classes says; and (2) what media says, which actually also forms the views of the elites who then download these to the lower classes.
Aquino is fond of saying the masses are his ‘bosses’, since he knows that the media he has controlled tells these “bosses” to like him, what they should think and tell him.
It is an irony of modern society that a very tiny sector of the elite controls media that has such tremendous power. And in democratic societies, the super-elite who control media either want the political ruling elite as their friends for their business interests, or shares the rulers’ ideology and mentality. Traditional media portrays “reality” for the masses in the way the elite wants.
Social media however isn’t traditional media, and is called “social” since its content are not decided by a small media elite, but generated by the “users”, i.e., those with Facebook accounts or those who post videos at YouTube. Such content becomes important—get a lot of views—only as a result of the actions of users themselves, i.e., how many of them view it and share it to others. In an important sense, and not without its downside, “news” in social media is a democratic process, voted upon when it is shared or even just “liked”.
For instance, Gonzalez and Beltran who posted the Roxas video at FaceBook aren’t press magnates. But the video became viral, viewed by a million Filipinos, consequently forming Filipinos’ (obviously negative) views of Roxas and the Aquino administration.
Of course, Facebook users and YouTube viewers aren’t exactly the masses. But they obviously consist of the middle- to upper classes that want to think for themselves and not just believe whatever media says. They would also be downloading their views to the lower classes.
Check out the so-called “internet cafes” (there are even so-called “Piso-net” outfits in which one peso gives you 15 minutes internet access), note that internet penetration in the country is 35 percent (65 percent among the youth) and that there are 30 million Facebook accounts opened so far the Philippines.
Netizens now are mostly populated by the politically active sector of the lower-to-middle classes—the vanguards of revolutions in any political upheaval in modern times.
And the fact that the Roxas video has reached the one-million-viewer mark means this regime’s control of media has been cracked.