On the Pathos of Colloquial Language and the Illusion of Ethos
In 2017, a University of Oxford study reported that President Rodrigo Duterte’s camp during the 2016 election spent $200,000 for paid trolls to spread propaganda and target the opposition. Since the election, internet trolls have been rampant in the Philippines which caused a great divide within the Filipino community.
With the current political landscape of the Philippines, there seems to be a growing number of “political influencers” in social media. When we say “political influencers” in Philippine social media, there are two constant names on the list: Mocha Uson and most recently, Jam Magno. They have been actively making noise in social media and gaining more and more followers. Their influence that caused a huge divide in Philippine society imposed a dichotomous rhetoric in everything – DDS (Diehard Duterte Supporters) versus the Dilawans. Dilaw is the official color of the Liberal Party; the incumbent’s current opposition. Dilawans are the collective term they use to refer to any critics of the incumbent administration. They easily associate anyone who go against their beliefs as such regardless if the critic is or is not part of the said political party.
What is interesting about these “political influencers” is their communication strategy. There is a certain way Mocha Uson, and Jam Magno present themselves in social media which I argue allowed them to earn a huge following. The way they communicate to the public different propagandas to target opposition is tailored in such a way that the masses would easily understand and relate to them. They use colloquial language pretty often in their contents. However if one carefully examines their posts, there is a glaring shift in the language they use when they aim to spread propagandas to persuade the people that the Duterte administration is effective.
Aristotle argues that there are three best means of persuasion – ethos (credibility), pathos (emotions), and logos (logic) (Herrick, 2008). The rhetorical strategy of Mocha and Jam relies heavily on the first two. In this article, I aim to show how the pathos of a “makamasa” or colloquial language and the illusion of ethos in good articulation shape Filipino public opinion. I shall show some of these “political influencers’” viral posts along with some of the comment sections to prove this point. The pathos that comes with the use of colloquial language allow people to identify with these political influencers and the shift in the language used to spread propagandas gives them an illusion of credibility or ethos.
Let us first examine the case of Mocha Uson. Upon checking Facebook, Mocha has two Facebook pages. One is the MOCHA USON BLOG to where she claims in the bio not to be a JOURNALIST but rather just an ordinary Filipino. Her other Facebook page, MOCHA USON, is her official page as the Deputy Administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Association or OWWA. One would assume that given the brands of the two pages the latter will have more reach and a different communication strategy than the former. However, the MOCHA USON BLOG has more followers of approximately 5.6 million. Also, the language used in both accounts is pretty much the same.
Here is one of her latest posts to which she shared a post by Luminous by Trixie Cruz-Angeles & Ahmed Paglinawan with a caption: “Itong mga to ang nagpapa-resign sa Presidente? Pucha! hahaha!” It is important to note that there was no mention of an “admin [name]” in the caption because she claims that some of the posts in her page are not written or made by her. If a post comes with an admin name, then that is not her.
This is the comment section of her latest post. Notice how people interact with her. With her word choices, she practically invited people to respond in the exact same manner. If you examine the comment sections, most of them are actually sending hate comments towards the opposition. Mocha’s use of colloquial language allows ordinary Filipinos to relate and engage with her.
Look at how she responded to one of the senators, Senator Risa Hontiveros. Although the post was published in her “blog”, she claims that it was not her who posted the said fake news. She even called the senator “tanga” or stupid because the senator according to her did not understand the word “admin” placed at the bottom of the fake news post.
In her other account as the Deputy Administrator for OWA last February 16, she posted her response to Senator Kiko Pangilinan’s tweet. He implied that because the President is being China’s pet, Filipinos are now China’s pet as well. In her response, Mocha said and implied in reply that the opposition is only against us being China’s pets but is willing to be slaves of the Americans.
In the comment section, the dichotomous rhetoric of Dilawans versus the DDS is very clear. Because the senator is part of the opposition, he is a Dilawan. The message is clear that if one is not a Die-hard Duterte Supporter or who openly criticizes the government they are the enemy of the people.
But look at how Mocha Uson shifts her language when it is about work. This is her post about a concern of an OFW struggling to find a hotel once they fly back to the Philippines.
Although it is obvious that she will definitely shift the way she communicates, there is a rhetorical goal as to why she does so. This is both to show empathy and credibility as a Deputy Administrator. She wants to show that she does her work properly and so is the government. She wants to assert that she is relatable because she can speak the language in the streets yet she can be professional and credible.
Jam Magno is fairly new in the scene. She is making a huge uproar right now especially with her tasteless comments about the medical frontliners. Watch this Youtube video to hear what she has to say. The original post is on her Tiktok account.
Due to the rise of COVID cases and the fatigue our medical frontliners are now experiencing, our doctors and nurses cannot help but call out the government. Jam Magno in her Tiktok account said that these medical frontliners are just good at calling out the government when in fact they are actually selfish. She even claimed that they have not contributed anything to alleviate our plight.
She turned off her comments section in her Tiktok so that no one can reply to her posts. However every now and then, you will see other Tiktok users post videos defending her. There are even Facebook groups intended not only to support the administration but to defend Jam Magno.
The difference between Mocha and Jam in terms of the language they use is that Jam Magno code switches in her content. She uses both colloquial language and well-articulated English. If you go through her Tiktok profile she presents herself as a mother who loves her son and an avid supporter of the government who is an enemy or critic of the opposition that can speak in fluent English.
Her videos start by bashing the critics of the government. She would call them “ang bobo niyo talaga” (You guys are really stupid), “uneducated” and whatnot. Afterwards, she will use English to continue spreading remarks against the opposition and ends it by saying that Filipinos should not be going against the current administration.
This strategy works well for Filipinos because as Constantino said in his critical essay English is about social class in our society (as cited in Tupas, 2019). Jam using English while spreading hate propaganda on Tiktok somehow gives her credibility because associated with English is class for Filipinos. This is the illusion of ethos that she creates. She knows very well that Filipinos are easily persuaded or amazed when someone speaks in fluent English regardless of message.
The communication strategy of these two political influencers are very clear. It created a very visible division among us as those who are not in support of their beliefs (DDS) are easily labeled as Dilawans. This rhetoric continues to perpetuate it. I believe this is what Mouffe (2000) pertains to when she said that “democracy is precisely this agonistic struggle where you are being bombarded by different views”. This is the price to pay which can be very difficult to control. After all, we cannot always attain consensus and for as long as we maintain this political order, we juggle this struggle along with it.
Bradshaw, S., & Howard, P. (2017). Troops, trolls and troublemakers: A global inventory of organized social media manipulation.
Herrick, J. A. (2008). The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An introduction. New York, NY: Routledge.
Mouffe, Chantal, (2000). Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism. In Political Sciences Series.