With the slogan “Together for a better internet”, the Safer Internet Day (SID) this 2023 – its 20th edition – is celebrated around the world on February 7. To provide a space for young Filipinos to make their voices heard on matters relating to their security, wellbeing, and human rights in the digital world, Out of The Box Media Literacy (OOTB) organized an essay writing contest for high school students under their “Take Ctrl ⇧ Shift Habits” program.
Over 80 students from 40 high schools nationwide answered the question, “How should Internet platforms deal with harmful online content in a way that ensures the proper balance with the right to freedom of expression and other human rights?”
As the Internet becomes more and more accessible, concern for children’s exposure to age-inappropriate and risky content online has further intensified. While there are already steps being taken by governments, international bodies, and digital platforms themselves to regulate media content and practices, increased transparency, inclusivity, and respect for human rights must be thoroughly monitored and championed by the public.
The winning essays of the Take Ctrl ⇧ Shift Habits contest showcase Filipino youth’s perspectives on combating disinformation, the complexities of the right to free speech, and social media platforms’ regulatory mechanisms. Each essay is complemented with artworks by Cartoonist ZACH and Isang Tasang Kape.
The First Place winner is Grade 11 student Mary Treb Hibaya of Saint Mary’s Academy – Pasay City. Joshua Tristeza (Grade 12) of Mandurriao National High School in Iloilo City took the second spot while Anika Mei Cunanan (Grade 11) of the University of Santo Tomas won third place.
The essay submissions were judged by digital rights and media literacy experts from the program’s partner organizations, Foundation for Media Alternatives, Yabong Philippines, and EngageMedia.
The night sky is painted with burning hues of orange, yellow and black as the great cobra spews its venomous kerosene upon the state, letting the burnt smithereens of knowledge and democracy float among the public – this is the kind of dystopian future the Philippines is yet to experience. With the mindless chatter of social media enwrapping the brain of every Filipino, we are doomed to a society that is caged with the kind of technology that is corrupted with ignorance and censorship of our abusive, bloody and burning reality.
Fahrenheit 451, a novel I once read, talks about a future where books, a source of unbiased knowledge, are burned, banned, and replaced. In turn, advanced technology is used to cage and manipulate people to live in a bubble away from reality – a bubble filled with the toxic gas of state propaganda. The Philippines is already living in this kind of bubble: common sense being smoked by online videos, knowledge being burned by the kerosene of manipulated media, and democracy being tainted with the crimson blood of those who go up against the man.
The internet is burning the Philippines with complete irrationality. So, on the fiery night of May 9, not a bird nor a plane but a message chimed all over the country: A game has begun. A game of chess with the people of the Philippines. With the government playing as the opposing side comes the question: Play the Game?
Death of Human Rights: Queen’s Gambit
Pawn to D4: the opening to a game of Queen’s Gambit. The government makes a move. Disinformation, online troll attacks, and red-tagging — all pawns in this little game. With the Philippines holding the title for having some of the most active social media users in the world, it is, no doubt, that Filipinos are heavily dependent on social platforms to get their news, gossip, and any kind of information. However, with algorithms professing bias and the platform itself excluding exemption from certain kinds of harmful content, freedom of expression and democracy can be seen burnt.
Altering civic discourse by manipulating users towards particular ideologies is the type of kerosene that media platforms use to burn democracy. As long as there is money, power and hatred, the business of Satan would continue to scorch in success. Instead of fighting white chess pieces, we are now dealing with crimson red pieces, with the blood of the oppressed staining the chessboard for every move. In this bloodbath game of logic, what must we, the defense, do?
To cure the sickness that corruption is spreading, internet platforms must first get rid of their biased system. Political news and factual information must always appear on one’s feed, not fixed to a user’s specified algorithm.
Pawn to D5: We make a move against the offense. As expected, fixes are being introduced to the corrupted system of social media. Although they seem to serve their purpose, these actions are not enough to save internet users from harmful content. As long as there is power and prejudice, there will be downsides to the actions made to guarantee a safer virtual environment.
To cure the sickness that corruption is spreading, internet platforms must first get rid of their biased system. Political news and factual information must always appear in one’s feed, not fixed to a user’s specified algorithm. Other harmful content must also be rid of without granting reprieve, especially when multiple users have flagged the said content as negative. It is through the change of algorithm and the proper handling of user data will we find proper balance and ensure democracy.
Renaissance of Freedom: The Albin-Counter Gambit
The Albin-Counter Gambit wins against the Queen’s Gambit with a trap. A trap that would seem useless, almost a fool’s move in the beginning, however, would be crowned triumphant in the end as the enemy is deceived. Everyone would vilify the young: criticizing them for engaging in sensitive topics, laughing at them for having a stand in political discussions, and belittling them when fighting for their rights in the virtual world. However, just like the trap of Albin-Counter’s Gambit, the young, perceived as the fool’s move, would, later on, be the trump card that would lead the enemy’s King to a checkmate.
Let’s not cage our youngsters into a world of sp(ecif)ied algorithms. We must not burn freedom, but rather keep an open fire for change. Go on, belittle the young, and fall to the righteous trap of Albin-Counter’s Gambit. Be the fool’s move, as you can only win against the ignorant when playing with ignorance.