The hashtag #NinoyIsNotAHero trended on Twitter on Ninoy Aquino Day, a national holiday meant to commemorate the assassination of the former senator.
As of 9 a.m. Friday, the hashtag was third on Philippine trends with more than 13,000 tweets talking about it.
The issue sparked a political debate on Twitter as some netizens questioned the hashtag that trended during the holiday.
Some Twitter users said the trend was “inorganic,” claiming it happened overnight and that the first accounts that tweeted the hashtag were mostly trolls.
To shed light on the matter, we sought the expertise of De La Salle University professor Jason Cabañes, who has done research on the production of digital disinformation.
The expert explained that a hashtag would have to be used by a significant number of Twitter users for it to trend, and that this could happen in either a “predominantly organic” or “predominantly inorganic” way.
According to Cabañes, the organic way is “if someone constructs a hashtag without planning to make it viral.”
“Often, what happens is that this hashtag resonates enough with other individuals, who then pick up on it and use it in their own accounts,” he explained.
“Of course, even a tweet that begins in this way can have ‘inorganic’ elements, in that there might be people down the line who want to make it viral in a more strategic kind of way,” he added.
As for the primarily inorganic way, Cabañes pointed out that digital disinformation often starts with a “chief disinformation architect” conceptualizing a hashtag that he or she would think will resonate with a target public.
“This disinformation architect will then hire a team anonymous digital influencers who have specially manufactured Twitter accounts that have a wide and/or dedicated following,” the expert explained.
“These manufactured accounts have many zealous followers—who are not necessarily paid—and it is them that make the tweet spread. Then, the followers of these zealous followers further spread the tweet, making it truly viral,” he added.
Be that as it may, Cabañes stressed that “whilst the beginnings of strategically created tweets are inorganic, the eventual shares it gets can be organic and done by real believers of the message.”
As for the #NinoyIsNotAHero trend in particular, Cabañes emphasized that “the fact that this hashtag trended means that its message has some resonance with some people,” regardless if it took place organically or inorganically.
“I think it speaks to one shared narrative about the Philippines that has gained some traction in recent years: the failure of EDSA and its resultant oligarchic democracy,” Cabañes told GMA News Online.
“More worrisomely, it speaks to a broader shared narrative about how maybe democracy isn’t working and that maybe we should be like our neighbouring countries. They may be more authoritarian, but they seem to be doing better than us,” he added.
“I think this is something that we should challenge by offering new shared narratives about the value of democracy for our society. But [it] needs to be something that resonates with people. We can’t keep coming back to previous stories that people seem to have rejected,” he continued.
On Aug. 21, 1983, Aquino was assassinated on the tarmac of Manila International Airport, which is now named in his honor.
Aquino was the husband of the late Corazon Aquino who, after his death, became the first woman president of the Philippines. He was also the father of former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.
President Rodrigo Duterte is perceived to be an ally of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos’ family, whose political feud with the Aquinos went on for decades even before the People Power Revolution overthrew the dictatorial regime. – RC, GMA News