Social Media Construction of Reality (Textual Analysis)

Zamboanga Siege, the infamous armed conflict born out of differences in ideologies and interests between the City Government of Zamboanga and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), broke out in the morning of September 9, 2013. It was made known to the public thru one of the traditional media – radio.

The media played their part in disclosing what was happening from ground zero by giving updates – blow by blow – which satisfied the public’s clamor for information. However, as the conflict escalates and the conflict stretched its shadow from one barangay to another, and as the city government ordered security to be tightened, those who are working for the local media found it hard to give an actual update of what’s happening.

Information became a commodity as the city battles its way to protect its sovereignty against those who threatens its government and people. Hence, crisis communications need to be fast and timely to cater the peoples’ clamor. This is the point where traditional media fell short.

Fortunately, crisis communications utilized the social media to convey updates as sporadic gun fires broke out, as fire broke out, as hostages were freed, as more civilians were displaced, etc. Thus, social media became another channel for people to be aware of the goings-on from ground zero.

The official Twitter page of the city of Zamboanga (@zambocitygovt) became the official update arm of the city officials to appease the anxiety, worry, fear, and clamor of the people. From the moment the conflict erupted, the City Hall turned to its Twitter account to post updates until the end of the said conflict. It was also used to answer the questions of the netizens (internet citizens) – in and out of Zamboanga City.

The first tweet that @zambocitygovt posted was “PUBLIC ADVISORY: Due to MNLF sighting, Mayor Climaco in coordination with DEPED is suspending classes in all levels, private and punlic.” This tweet came in consonance with the announcements on the radio – specifically, Radio Minadanao Network (RMN). At the surface, this announcement could easily be taken as a one-day conflict and could easily be resolved. However, as the day progressed, more tweets came in picturing a dramatic escalation of the conflict.

At 11:19 AM, the same account tweeted “City Health Office confirms 17 people wounded in the gun fight between govt authorities vs MNLF. #ZamboCrisis #PrayForZamboanga” and with this, people have started to ask what’s really happening. Prior to this tweet, reporters over the radio have already disclosed tidbit information about what’s happening at ground zero; the tweet gave additional insight, however.

In addition, at around 8:33 PM, conflict still unresolved, a twitter user with the account name @abcdefghijKrizz tweeted @zambocitygovt asking “will there be bombings and houses burnings tonight? Rumors have spread. Please confirm if it is true.” Moments later, the latter replied saying “these are unverified reports. We appeal to public to refrain from spreading rumors. Please remain vigilant.”

Also, a user with an account name @SagadaSun tweeted “The whole Zamboanga City is now hostage to the MNLF terrorists @zambocitygovt”. And it got a reply from the tagged account, clarifying that “crisis is only confined in 5 out of the 98 barangays in Zamboanga City.”

In this context, we observed two occurrences; first, twitter served its real purpose to its users – instant communication. And second, worries and queries of the people of Zamboanga were answered and clarifications were also made. Whoever was following the above mentioned twitter users should have seen those exchange of information.

The action done by these users surfaced as the concepts and contentions encapsulated in the Social Networking Theory (SNT) by J.A. Barnes. The interaction between @zambocitygovt, @abcdefghijKrizz and @SagadaSun exhibited free flow of information that didn’t have to be based on specific terms. The users (nodes) were able to interact with each other regardless of their affiliation (ties) and were able to make a sense of what’s happening on the ground. It can be assumed that a producer-consumer relationship was established among and between these users as exchanges of information took place. In addition, this concept of SNT, the tailored interaction between and among users are expounded even more when strings of comments exploded when Rappler tweeted “@maria_ressa: [4th update] About 80 rebels surrender in Zambo”. This update however did not happened, as what the local officials said and was confirmed by authorities of Western Mindanao Command (WesMinCom).

Part of Comment #1 says:

“Pwedeng totoo ang sinasabi ng rappler, at ang delay and inaction ng government ay dahil siguro may sinusundan talaga silang script o kaya naman ay gusto nilang i-take advantage yung situation para mapabango ang pangalan ni Mar at ni PNoy” – @RayaJacque

Comment #2 says:

“Rappler’s sources gave you a bum steer. No surrender has taken place, although negotiations are ongoing.” – @VGfau

These comments illustrate the account holders’ point of view concerning this topic, which were posted on the third day of the crisis (September 12). The users’ observations, moreover, show how Twitter was able to allow the siege to, also, take place in the virtual world. In this context, only the throwing of the points, views and opinions about the siege took place in the virtual world.

The way the researchers (Blanco and Elas, 2015) see it, Twitter was able to build a channel where twitters (people who use Twitter) can react to issues that concern them, in this context, the Zamboanga Siege. The channel was vital because at that time, information was a commodity. The channel allowed all users to play – throw their ideas in, comment their reactions, ask and answer questions, post additional information – in the virtual world. The internet doesn’t limit a network to who can post what; it allows the free flow of data to come in and out. Moreover, these data can either be a basis for one’s reality and/or judgment about the issue or a pre-conceived reality/judgment/notion that a user wanted to share for the world to know.

The conflict between the government and the rogue members of the MNLF escalated as the days progressed. Few people knew the real reason why the siege happened, and more importantly, who caused it.

One tweet shed light to some asking these questions. ABS-CBN News Channel tweeted, “@ANCALERTS: Climaco: We are negotiating with them, we are trying to reach Malik. They say, they want to have a peace caravan, we don’t believe them.”

More importantly, people started to believe that this is real, that the siege is really happening and it’s serious because numbers were released. @zambocitygovt tweeted the following:

“Around 300 evacuees from Rio Hondo and Mariki now at Zambo Grandstand. Area already secured by authorities. #ZamboCrisis”

“At 3am today, some 30 armed MNLF tagging along civilians as human shields from Mampang were monitored proceeding to Sta. Catalina”

Some other side of the story were also tweeted, and these stories are far from ground zero.

Vice President Jejomar Binay arrived in Zamboanga on September 14, 2013, fifth day of the conflict. Majority of the users, that time, saw this as politically motivated. GMA News tweeted “@GMANewsOnline: Binay denies using Zambo crisis for 2016 prexy bid”.

Replies were:

From @wawam: “ULOL! Now Binay thinks we are all stupid! #Zamboanga”

From @henryfsolis: “Talaga? wag nman sana tayong hipokrito. alam naman natin na higit sa kagustuhan nyang tumulong,mas gs2 nyang manalong pangulo”

In lieu with this, more politics-related tweets surfaced during the second week of the siege. ABS-CBN News tweeted “@ABSCBNNews: Enrile on Zambo crisis: Paano ako mapapasama sa isang pangyayari na wala akong kaalam-alam? May pagka-sinungaling ang senadora na yan”.

Some replies were:

From @JdLCruz41: “boss, call and text lang po d nyo kailangan nandun sa zamboanga.”

From @iiamBEEBOY: “Sure ka? Wag na kase mag-Deny… Dinadamay mo kase kameng mga Zamboangueños sa PDAF mo! Pwe!!

These series of interaction show that twitters may have a different interpretation of the siege when high-ranking politicos are out of the picture. However, the moment these sorts of politicos get in the frame, the string of judgment will change. Moreover, this line of judgment is inevitable especially in Philippine setting where politicos play a large part in the culture of corruption in the country. And the users’ knowledge about the affiliations of these politicos may be the reason why they comment as such.

On the other hand, social media went abuzzed when Nur Misuari’s name came into view. His name has been tagged along from the moment MNLF was mentioned. @zambocitygovt tweeted, “Climaco: Last night I was able to talk to Chairman Misuari hoping that it would pave the way for the peaceful end of this crisis.” And “Climaco: Nur Misuari, your failure to communicate with government, should never be the failure of Zamboanga.”

These tweets, disclosing seemingly classified information, are striking enough for people to conclude that (1) Nur Misuari is behind all of this and that (2) some politicos helped to orchestrate this conflict and (3) this can be a conflict born out of religious differences. However, the latter was clarified by @zambocitygovt saying, “Mayor Climaco: This is not an issue of religion for we have co-existed peacefully and worked harmoniously.” And, “Mayor Climaco: This is an issue of people with misguided principles using arms to propel their ideology”.

We, the researchers, think that these tweets, the kind that involves names, reasons, and demographics are likely to be saleable as truth and credible and, therefore, constituting to one’s construction of his/her reality of an issue. We think these are facts with value because (1) they present individuals who were previously reported to be on the other side of the issue, (2) it came from trusted sources, (3) the numbers show the escalating collateral damages that affects the entire community, (4) it shows how flawed a system of governance is and how it affects the entire community and (5) because the media gave them importance in their reportage and people would most likely think that it’s the important issue of the day, that whatever reasons/judgments/notions were aired are automatically considered as truth. (by Juseph Elas)

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