In the digital age, social media has expanded from being a site showcasing lifestyles and personalities, linking and building connections between people, and a form of social entertainment to a version where people turn to for the latest news updates, research on historical events, and even a platform spreading disinformation. It was once regarded as an enabler of democracy as it is an easy way for people to have a voice in the government but now criticized for the proliferation of falsehoods and even a platform for political attempts of historical revisionism. Historical revisionism refers to any reinterpretation of recorded history and existing facts to reflect contemporary morality. As of February 2022, the Philippines has about 92.5 million social media users, many utilize it for daily activities while others use it for more vicious purposes. It is no doubt why disinformation and historical revisionism have become popular in the online world, making it difficult for people to distinguish between what is real and what is fake.
History keeps tons of official records, scholarly journals and legal documents. It holds documentary proofs and evidences that highlights special events in the past that have contributed to how the present political system is acting. Historical revisionism in the Philippines has thrived through social media platforms during the administration of then President Rodrigo Duterte but mostly gave a buzz online during the 2022 Philippine national elections. Given the consumption and use of the different social media platforms by most Filipinos, the reach of disinformation is undoubtedly fast and the attempts to revised historical facts became easier and very accessible.
How is revisionism through social media platforms a threat to Philippine democracy? How is social media and democracy related? What effect does social media have on democracy? What can be done to combat the increasing problem of online disinformation?
The Philippines is no new to historical revisionism as narratives promoting how charismatic and good of leaders are the Marcoses were resurfaced by internet trolls and propaganda networks in social media platforms in the past years leading up to the recent elections. This has become a political strategy, to employ “troll farm” whose basic role is to swamp social media platforms with fake profiles and present false claims about the candidate they are linked with and spread false narratives against the other parties. Such deception are shown through Facebook posts, tweets and hashtags on Twitter, uploaded pictures on Instagram and numerous unverified published articles all over the web with misleading headlines that only shows one side of the story- everything in favor to the Marcoses and all are against and detrimental to the opposition.
Blatantly, the platform is now being used and taken advantage of to spread disinformation by revising historical facts and evidences in an attempt of powerful people to advance their personal interests and control the existing political system of the country. Disturbing historical revisionism attempts includes how the martial law seems to be glorified nowadays without discussing the abuse and violence during this period including the deaths and imprisonment of thousands of people. Attempts to downplay what happened during the dictatorship era is also shown in the continuous disregard to human rights and justice. Then President Marcos was never held accountable and instead granted a hero’s burial. Beyond the Marcos’ case, social media must not at all allow historical revisionism to flourish.
As social media is of global reach, it is easy to deceive a great number of people using a single article or post. What transpired during the 2022 Philippine national elections is an outcome and a manifestation of how historical revisionism and disinformation undermines the integrity of elections and affects electoral outcomes. It has challenged existing electoral rules such as transparency, campaigning, and political funding. Further, historical revisionism by automated accounts in any social media amplify disinformation and exacerbate its effects.
Revisionism as seen in social media contributes to the erosion of Philippine democracy as it sows confusion to people. Confusion on which information is factual or not may decrease citizen’s interest in politics and may polarize society by sharpening existing sociocultural divisions using nationalistic, ethnic, racial, and religious tensions. Technology-borne disinformation is crushing the already shaky public trust to existing democratic institutions. In a democracy, it is essential for people to be well informed of historical truths and not to succumb to mere lies. However, considering the wide reach of the different social media platforms, some may fail to spot the inconsistencies and rhetorical tricks used in political communication and as a result, this may accelerate political disengagement.
The continuous spread of false information about history and politics in different social media platforms can affect the citizen’s capacity to form and express political views. There had been waging information wars all over different social media, it is no doubt that technology can now be weaponized by anyone, anywhere and anytime to target vulnerable populations and advance personal interests to gain political power and control.
Moreover, revisionism in social media weakens good journalism. The propagation of inaccurate information over the different platforms compromise the credibility of trusted news and media networks that has the capability to publish verified, truth and factual information. It is no question that the democracy in the Philippines is now under a great challenge. Social media has expanded the reach of disinformation and revisionism especially to the younger audiences. It is concerning how the rampant revisionism in social media can poison young developing minds that has the power to bring dictators back to power in the future.
History in the Philippines seems to be unkind to some politicians. With each passing year, the Philippine history has exposed the effects of a dictatorship type of leadership, it has shown how human dignity and socio-political ideas were rejected and finally how political strength and power undermines basic human rights. The contentious attempts of revisionism using social media is a manifestation of a huge desire for political power and control- and this is never democratic.
However, optimism is still around the table. The collaborative effort among journalists, activists, teachers and anyone with the intention to battle revisionism and disinformation in social media can powerfully undermine the distortions and can protect democracy. Public education and awareness is a first step towards this optimism. Hence, it is notably important for the citizens to fact check, filter what information to believe in and be well informed of historical truths. On the technical side, it is necessary for social media platforms to be guided with greater accountability mechanisms, and for the tech companies to initiate media literacy campaigns to operate for public interest and the promotion of democracy rather than be enablers of revisionism and disinformation in social media.
More importantly, as democracy has been under stress way before the advent of social media, and as revisionism is no new to the Philippines, the global reach the of the different social media platforms can also be applied to making it an effective way to battle revisionism and build a strengthened public connection and political system. In the end, a more connected nation can be a more democratic one.