Saturday, September 24, 2016

Of trolls and crabs

NOW on its 22nd year, the recently concluded Cebu Press Freedom Week always has a lot to offer. One of the most anticipated this year was the Sept. 21 forum organized by Sun.Star on “Trolls, Online Comments: Journalism’s New Challenges.”

Sun.Star Network Exchange (Sunnex) editor-in-chief Nini Cabaero spoke to a standing-room audience that turned out for the “Reaching Out to Future Journalists” forum at the Marcelo B. Fernan Cebu Press Center.

Joining her were Sun.Star Cebu columnists Anol Mongaya, Bobby Nalzaro, and Lorenzo P. Niñal, Sun.Star Superbalita (Cebu) editor-in-chief Michelle P. So, and Kevin Maglinte of

Ms. Cabaero’s talk was a reasoned argument to keep the digital public sphere clear for critical, impassioned discussion, minus the hating and bullying.

As Sun.Star Cebu editor-in-chief Isolde D. Amante noted in the closing address, the need for Netizens to respect differences of opinions and practice self-regulation was reinforced by the historical significance of the forum date: September 21, the 44th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, which suspended all civil liberties, including the right to freedom of expression, for nine years (1972-1981).

Ms. Cabaero struck a chord when she observed how the online trash talk jars with the countdown that has begun for Christmas.

Like a nightmare spilling from a tale by Kafka, the online heat/hate generated by the electoral campaign continues till now. Many remain blind to the difference between debate and the odium that hides behind online anonymity to threaten the unspeakable against those whose views are simply different from their own.

“Don’t feed the trolls,” advises Ms. Cabaero.

Choose one’s words, advised Mr. Niñal, citing how Twitter’s 140-character limit can unclog online traffic, as noxious as the highway version.

Mr. Nalzaro, known as “Super Bob” by the legions of followers of his newspaper, radio and online commentaries, hurled a challenge to trolls and would-be ‘tards: Use your real name online.

In his long media career, Mr. Nalzaro has mocked, cursed, named the unfortunates he disliked, called them names—but openly, never behind an avatar. For using his real name, Mr. Nalzaro eats libel suits three times a day, including merienda.

Cyberlibel may be the counter-curse for trolls.

As someone who writes and observes how words increasingly lose traction in a world besotted with images, I think we are in danger of losing our soul for lack of respect for the word.

When one hopes a critic of Mr. Duterte gets “ma-gangrape,” is the verb chosen for its power to do the most damage or for the images instantly conjured by rage?

“Words begin as description,” writes Susan Brind Morrow in “The Names of Things.” “(But) they are alive.”

Morrow’s memoir traces her journey from New York to the deserts of Egypt and Sudan in search for the “birth of language”. For those of us stuck in social media and trying to survive the next encounter with trolls, let her words serve as talismans:

“You could begin with the crab that scratches in the sand. The name of the animal is the action or sound it makes, or its color. The name parents other like meanings belonging to other things, leaving the animal behind: grapho (Greek—to scratch, and so, to write), gramma (the scratches), graph, grammar, grab.”

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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 25, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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