Disinformation vs voter education 1

2022 elections: Disinformation vs voter education

Dean Dela Paz

Posted at Aug 10 2021 11:06 PM | Updated as of Aug 10 2021 11:13 PM

(Editor's note: Dean de la Paz is a former investment banker and a managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance and Mathematics professor. He begins this week a regular blog for ABS-CBN News.)

At first glance, we seem to be tackling related opposites. Where one is typically the answer to the other, it is easy to assume adequate voter education should be a potent remedy to political disinformation. Unfortunately, the arithmetic does not operate that way in reality. The Filipino political experience is not quite as logical. Education does not cancel out disinformation when the latter is deeply inculcated, constantly setting mindsets, and is virtually miseducation. 

This is mostly the case in our accursed political milieu. While disinformation and voter education are heightened by imminent campaign periods that bring these centerstage, one permeates throughout an electoral term while the other only stirs from a lengthy period of hibernation and emerges from its cave when voters troop to choose their leaders.

That is unfortunate. If we combine both in a single equation and apply mathematical weighted averages to determine the total effect, we realize that three to six years of disinformation easily overwhelms the period we have left for voter education assuming we even realize the need. Most incumbents do not. That is understandable for those elected on the basis of mass ignorance. 

Not only does voter education come too late to negate disinformation constantly spread, but falsehoods spawned between elections have become so ingrained, no amount of last-minute education can mitigate their toxicities. A keloidal and numbed poisoned mind is no longer as permeable. 

From those arguing for greater campaign advertising latitude in the name of voter education on individual platforms, note the results of that advocacy. We saw in 2019 where a celebrity candidate’s slick prime-time television spot spent on belly dancing gyrations to catchy pop music sufficed to land him a winning senatorial seat. Array that against an intellectually meritorious and qualified but losing candidate who spends a grating half an hour discussing genuinely well-crafted platforms before a cable TV host.

The conjured persona of a candidate where there is a profound albeit subtle disconnect between the truth and the imagery presented by other media from the boob tube to the silver screen, to a public relations (PR) campaign on tabloid press, social media or even troll strings, including demolition derbies against perceived opposition, is akin to disinformation. 

Peddling a foul-mouthed gun-slinging enforcer as president is disinformation not voter education. So is hawking a sycophantic sidekick, a folk hero and preacher, a noontime game show host or telenovela superstar as qualified heads of state or lawmakers. Polymath Gustav Le Bon wrote on crowd psychology that whoever supplies illusions is master. And whoever destroys illusions are turned into victims. 

Golden glitters, sparkling sequins, and slimy sewer sludge stick in the minds of the susceptible. Thus, legions of unethical spinmeisters and unscrupulous PR operators have been raking it in, especially where they organize, own and dispatch political troll armies.

The academe, from colleges to universities, and legitimate media have taken the higher ground and have simplified voter education to fact checking in the time remaining as we rush blindly to 2022, unprepared with few choices, and with little resources save for remnant hope. We are fighting a trench war through focused webinars on fact checking, and through volunteers who engage communities, teaching them how to distinguish truth from lies. Never mind the complexities of principled politics and the long unfulfilled requisites demanded of elected officials. Fact checking will have to do in the little time left.

After all, the basic difference between a lie and the truth underlies the foundation of voter education.

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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.