While covering the Mindanao Hour press conference in Conrad hotel, I was approached by a supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte named Kelly Dayag.
Wearing glasses and with an earnest smile on his face, he asked if he could interview me about issues for which I have been castigated on social media by supporters of the President.
I was initially suspicious of the request because of my bad experience with some online defenders (just take a look at my Twitter feed). I knew what I would say might be used against me.
But what convinced me to speak to Kelly were his own words: that he had read all the criticisms and attacks and wanted to get my side “for fairness.”
As a journalist, it was hard for me to ignore this. But it was harder to ignore the refreshing realization that I was finally being asked for my side in a way that wasn’t malicious or insulting.
So we had a conversation, and it was a good one.
Kelly asked me if it was true that Rappler is “dilawan” or biased in favor of the Liberal Party. I responded that Rappler supports no party and was critical about the government even when it was helmed by Benigno Aquino III.
He asked me if it was true that Rappler claims Duterte supporters are all paid trolls. He said he was hurt by this accusation since he received not even a cent for defending Duterte online. I responded that Rappler never claimed all Duterte supporters are paid or that they are all trolls. I told him we even have articles about how Duterte’s social media campaign counted on a big group of volunteers. (READ: Over 600,000 OFWs mobilizing for Duterte campaign)
Duterte supporter Kelly Dayag and I talk about trolls and social media
Kelly and I presented conflicting definitions of who counts as a troll. He said Duterte supporters are particularly sensitive to being called a troll because, to them, a troll is a “faceless” online entity and not a real person.
To which I responded that a troll can be a real person. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a troll as someone who “antagonizes others online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.”
Nothing in the definition states that a troll is only a fake social media account.
Yet Kelly stuck to his definition of a troll. He also could not move me to reconsider the Merriam-Webster definition.
More than labels
In the end, he suggested that we “agree to disagree.” I agreed. We shook hands.
And then a magical thing happened. I asked him what he does for a living (he is based in the United States) and he said he is a physical therapist. I said physical therapy is one thing I need because of my hunched back, developed from always carrying around a heavy backpack and sitting in front of a laptop all day.
He then showed me some simple exercises and we did them right there in the conference hall lobby. We tiptoed, stretched our arms out, and laughed while doing it. It was fun! And it really did feel good for my back.
Selfies were taken and it seemed we parted on good terms.
My interaction with Kelly reminded me that we are all so much more than online labels. I am much more than a supposedly “bayaran” or “dilawan” journalist. I’m also a tired workaholic with a bad back.
Kelly is so much more than a pro-Duterte blogger. He’s also a physical therapist who has great advice for soothing worn out limbs.
Our conversation was also proof that fruitful dialogue can still happen in a time when mean-spiritedness and violent language have sadly come to dominate many a social media feed.
Kelly and I never resorted to name-calling or cursing to get our points across. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean there were no emotions at all in our conversation. I experienced a range of them, including anger, frustration, and irritation. But strong emotions don’t have to translate to poisonous speech.
A conversation doesn’t even have to end up in agreement to be rewarding. Kelly and I didn’t budge on some of our positions but at least we got to understand each other. Kelly said he felt relieved and happy that Rappler did not mean all Duterte supporters are paid trolls. I felt happy that he wanted to hear my side, that he, at least, wanted to challenge the claim of some online personalities that I am a corrupt journalist.
I really hope we can have more of these conversations. I think they are happening. I’ve been hearing people inviting their friends for coffee to discuss their opposing views on Philippine politics. For some, the wounds might still be raw and more time is needed before a frank and candid discussion can take place.
I’ve heard of families torn apart, barkadas broken up over support or disgust for Duterte and his administration.
We shouldn’t let politics divide us more than it already has. It would be so much better for our democracy if we were passionate in our politics but compassionate to each other.
I also think social media would be a much more vibrant place if we listened to each other and engaged with each other in more humane ways. This means recognizing that there is a human behind that Facebook profile page.
What to do with trolls (paid or otherwise, real or fake) and bots? We should ignore them. They’re one reason why social media has been reduced to a wasteland. Real people who troll should know nothing can be had if they continue with their trollish ways.
Let’s be kind, let’s not hate. Think for yourself, don’t let others determine who is your enemy and who is your ally.
Let’s seek out real people and real conversations. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.