The power of the “share” button

Almost everybody now has a smartphone. Or at least for Filipinos with enough income to buy one, even second-hand. That means millions of Filipinos possess in their hands the most amazing gadget known to mankind, a revolutionary instrument that impacted lives like the Guttenberg printing press, the telephone and the internet itself. With a smartphone, one is “connected” to the world 24/7, and through that small handheld device flows tons and tons of information.

And because of this “connectivity”, technology has broken down traditional pathways of information to the masses. No longer do people need to listen to radio, watch television or buy newspapers to get the news. Half a century ago, radio stations delivered “the top news of the hour” to keep their listeners abreast with what was happening in the community, the nation and the world. Newspapers ran extra editions to push earth-shaking news stories to their readers at mid-day or afternoon. There were even PM editions of newspapers.

All that is all about gone. Newspapers, radio and television stations still exist. But their traditional form are about to become extinct. Print runs for newspapers are down more than half. FM stations have become dinosaurs as free music now streamed non-stop on Spotify. TV? Well, YouTube and Facebook are the dominant platforms now for video content.

What is the point of this?

Well, media as we have known it has turned upside down. And the power to shape public opinion through the news is no longer in the hands of media giants. The ordinary individual has claimed that power for himself or herself, because he or she can decide what to read, listen or watch on that small gadget.

Media organizations have been stripped of their monopoly for disseminating the news and information. That power is now vested in the “share” button on all social media platforms that in a matter of minutes can deliver a piece of news to tens of millions of people around the globe. The word “viral” didn’t exist for news and information until just about 20 years ago.

Now, the political landscape is being shaped largely by this “share” button. Politicians can rise or fall depending on which posts on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube get shared by Filipinos. And for the Philippine opposition, this is what brought about their downfall.

The “share” button can have bad consequences, because it can be a bullet-train for fake news. At the same time, the same power gives truth a fighting chance to quickly expose fake news before these can cause permanent harm.

Not too long ago, politicians had this “ambush-me” scenario in their bags of tricks before an election. This was when radio was the sole platform for rapid news dissemination (newspaper readers would have to wait the next day to know what happened). A day or two before election day, the underdogs staged fake ambushes on themselves and have it reported on radio to gain sympathy among voters. By the time the prank is exposed, the desired effect of manipulating the people’s emotions have been achieved.

The opposition made the mistake of relying on mainstream media to deliver their narrative. Unfortunately, the credibility of mainstream media is in tatters. The irony is that even if their narrative is true, the message is corrupted in transmission, and gets dismissed as fake news by news consumers.

There’s really nothng to worry about the susceptibility of the “share” button to be abused. It has its own way to level the playing field. A counterbalancing message can always be posted in a matter of minutes. The deciding factor is the credibility of the messenger, because no amount of information will accomplish the purpose if that is lacking.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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