Anatomy of Political Trolling



Trolls are individuals who peddle fake and inflammatory information on social media to counter facts that are scientifically proven to be true. They are paid to create intrigues and confusion by distorting the facts. But there are also those who are unpaid and are mere apologists for some politicians or political organizations. Paid or unpaid, they all behave in the same manner. They will draw you into a type of conversation to destroy you. They are destructive. They will probably hate me for saying this. But many of them are rude, mean-spirited, foul-mouthed, resort to ad hominem attacks and harassment, as if you have personally offended them when, in reality, you just happen to disagree with how they view things.


When trolls respond or argue with you, they let vitriol spew from their mouths. This tells me that they are not really out to dialogue. If they are, they will be more respectful, convincing and will not resort to personal attacks, resulting perhaps in a lively and productive exchange of ideas. But such is not the case with trolls. Some are narcissistic. What is worse is others even resort to threats.


What happened recently to historian and Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Ambeth Ocampo is a classic example of how trolls are ever ready to vilify someone who tells the truth.


Ocampo, responding to Ella Cruz who likened history to “tsismis” (gossip), clarified that history is based on facts and not on opinion or “tsismis.” Immediately, he was viciously painted on social media as being a “Yellow historian” (which means Aquino diehard supporter). Like Ocampo, you may be branded as a communist, an NPA supporter, bobo (stupid), tanga (idiot), a Pinklawan (Leni Reobredo supporter), if you believe that history is factual and not fiction or mere opinion. They will place you in a box, giving you a false identity that can endanger your life or make you what you are not. Isn’t this the height of stupidity?


Aside from being hopelessly ill-mannered, judgmental, and close-minded, many trolls do not really know what they are talking about. They are like robots parroting information that their handlers tell them to say. I don’t know if I should laugh or insult them when I read their comments on Facebook. They cannot even spell correctly. Their grammar is atrocious. Their logic is incoherent. All this is forgivable. It’s even forgivable to be stupid. But spewing malicious lies and hatred to destroy the truth is unforgivable.


True, they are driven by a ferocious determination to outwit or promote the falsity of their arguments. Their determination is their motivation to stand up with anyone on social media. Whether they believe what they are told to believe, which they fiercely propagate online, is not important to me. I don’t believe a shred of what they want me to believe anyway. They will never convince me that there were no human rights violations during the reign of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. I had three friends who were abducted and killed by the military during that period. Their bodies were never found. They will never be able to distort this truth, no matter how hard they try.


What I worry about is the proclivity of some to believe what the trolls are mouthing. These trolls keep on repeating the same lies over and over again that many people end up believing them. That is the sad reality.


Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, once said, “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what is not true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” Consciously or not, it appears that trolls are well aware of Kierkegaard’s way of thinking and act on it. This is how they thrive.


People troll for many reasons. In the current Philippine political atmosphere, many of the trolls benefit the Marcoses, which should already make people highly suspicious. Although many of the trolls may not be rabid Marcos supporters and are doing it for monetary reason, there are those who troll because they believe that their point of view or belief is under threat. There are those who will attack anyone or anything that depicts the Marcoses in bad light. Many of them are misinformed, but they will troll just the same to sanitize the Marcoses and rehabilitate them.


It’s the very nature of trolls to lie; otherwise, they are not trolls. But isn’t it ironic that the politicians the trolls are lying for do not even care for them? Instead, they are treated as mere foot soldiers constantly lied to by their handlers.


How pitiful these trolls are. Many are victims of their own circumstances; others are victims of their own ignorance. Perhaps if they can spend a little more time to reflect on what they are doing and how they are being treated, the Philippines will be a lot better.


Sometimes I am tempted to just ignore them. It’s a waste of time engaging with people who lack the brains to objectively understand and respect the view of others. But ignoring them is full of risks because they can destroy people, like what they did to Leni Robredo – the most trolled politician in the Philippines before, during, and even after the May presidential election. That’s how hateful trolls can be.


I am not sure if these trolls understand that when they attack a person like Ocampo, whose knowledge of history is impeccable, they are consequently depriving themselves, their children, their family, and a generation of Filipinos from knowing the truth. But are they bothered by it? It seems not.


When these politicians’ trolls control the narrative that promotes the Trumpian “alternate reality,” that’s when facts become “tsismis,” that’s when democracy begins to falter and collapse.


And when democracy collapses, everybody suffers the trolls included.