Online trolls a challenge to true freedom of speech
FREEDOM of speech does not mean to smear reputation and ruin credibility, nor does it mean the freedom to be irresponsible and to defame.
This became the focus of a discussion yesterday as media leaders in Cebu discussed with future journalists the challenges confronting news organizations in the advent of digitalization.
Among the challenges confronting media organizations that have been leveraging on social media for wider audience reach today is how to respond to online “trolls” and negative responses from netizens.
Keynote speaker and Sun.Star Network Exchange (Sunnex) editor in chief Nini Cabaero noted a rise in the activities of online trolls during the May 2016 presidential elections; a period, she said, wherein people became a lot more vocal and aggressive in campaigning for their own presidential bets.
“When the election fever started burning down civility and online responsibility, many thought it was simply the heat of the electoral campaign,” said Cabaero, but “we see the power of social media platforms and their increasing influence in our online state,” she added.
“Troll” is the online jargon for a person who sows discord online by starting arguments or upsetting people by posting nasty messages on websites, social media accounts or chat rooms with the intent of provoking readers into an emotional response often for their own amusement.
Trolls may be robots activated with the use of a keyword or phrases used online or real persons paid by politicians or interest groups to use fake social media accounts and post comments or status updates that attack or demean others.
Among the favorite targets of trolls are news organizations, particularly columnists and reporters, whom they attack for writing about pressing issues and news items that don’t conform to their views and perspectives.
“The internet provides many opportunities for empowerment and gratification but the practice of trolling makes us wary of celebrating our massive internet presence,” said Cabaero.
Sitting during the forum as panelists were GMA-7 news anchor and Sun.Star Cebu columnist Bobby Nalzaro, Sun.Star Superbalita editor in chief Michelle So, Sun.Star Cebu columnist Anol Mongaya, Sun.Star Cebu editor-columnist and handler of @SinugbangSugbo Lorenzo “Insoy” Niñal and Mugstoria chief operating officer Kevin Maglinte.
A victim of online trolling, Nalzaro talked about how he was frequently criticized by unknown netizens on Facebook, sharing instances where he received ill-wishes for him and his family.
“(Netizens) are shooting the messenger, not the message. Just imagine, pati akong nanay (even my mother) who died eight years ago giingnan og (they said) ‘Mayta’g mamatay unta imong inahan (Hope your mother dies).’ How do you react to that? Simple. Ako, I don’t panic, (and try) not (to) be emotional about it and ignore it,” Nalzaro said adding that people must use social media with utmost responsibility.
Superbalita editor in chief Michelle So also shared how their publication felt the attacks of trolls during the height of the electoral campaign.
“Solid Duterte supporters would really lambast us every time they came across posts, without even having read them, that they thought were aimed against their presidential bet,” So said in Cebuano.
“Our reporters also got threats from unknown Facebook users. And we would tell them that whatever people post against them, just ignore them. Don’t feed the trolls,” added So.
Towards the end of the forum, Cabaero said that the media has a great role to perform in stopping the trolls from smearing the reputation of news organizations while still maintaining a conducive online space for debates and discussions among netizens.
“Comments can be so nasty, illegal and threatening. But there’s a way to stop trolls, and one of them is news literacy. That’s how news organizations come into play. We can do it without being hurtful or insulting, without resorting to speaking abusive language. Also, media should encourage healthy discourse with the public because the media’s loyalty belongs to the public. That is democracy,” Cabaero said.
Among the effective ways to filter out trolls and negative comments, she said, are closing down the comment sections and moving discussions to social media platforms, having a delete policy for comments and managing comment platforms.
“Freedom of speech is the recognition of the right of anyone to speak his or her own mind and to speak his or her own view without being objectionable,” Cabaero said.
Yesterday’s “Reaching Out To Future Journalists” forum, organized by Sun.Star Cebu at the Marcelo B. Fernan Cebu Press Center in Lahug, Cebu City, was meant to educate budding journalists from various colleges and universities in line with the 22nd Cebu Press Freedom Week celebration and the 44th commemoration of the declaration of Martial Law in the country.
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