A new, detestable low

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    IT’S appalling how the propaganda machine has reached a new low. While their behavior prior to the outbreak has not been in any way commendable (in some cases it’s actually downright criminal), anyone who checked the goings-on in social media over the past week will surely get what I mean.

    Everyone is on edge about the novel coronavirus, especially after it was announced that the virus can be transmitted even during the 14-day incubation period. Most everyone paying attention has realized that our standard screening procedures using thermal scanners have now been rendered fifty percent efficient by the simple development that those showing no signs or symptoms can still infect others. While other countries like Singapore, the United States, and Australia have imposed temporary travel restrictions and quarantine measures for those coming from China, the current dispensation took its sweet time to weigh whether such a measure will help keep the illness out of our borders.

    Meanwhile, the propaganda machine went into overdrive, calling folks who expressed dismay at the lax response of Philippine leadership various names, accompanied by the usual slash and burn tactics, similar to a descent of locusts. The trolls were sloppier than usual, and eagle-eyed social media users caught their gambit early on: a sob story (yes, singular) about discrimination against Chinese nationals went around different platforms, copy-pasted furiously by the lowest of the low. The story is designed to tug at the heartstrings: someone encounters a Chinese family while waiting for the elevator at their condominium building, and details the reaction of other folks present who visibly recoil at the sight of the foreigners. It begins with an expression of emotion from the poster: “I’m sad.” It could have been true—except that multiple accounts had posted the exact same text on their walls, evidence that the unseen hands who work the propaganda machine had given a directive for their minions to propagate that message.

    I look at this development and see several things: while the propaganda machine isn’t new to those of us who frequent social media platforms, the depths these bottom-feeders will plumb is, as we speak, detestable. Who pays for their keep?

    Another is that the current administration, with the exception of the frontliners of the Department of Health, has failed to effectively move in a timely manner to ensure that lives will not be lost to this illness. There is also something wrong with the way information is being disseminated during this time. Our health experts already know that there is much uncertainty regarding the circumstances and nature of this illness, and how it is transmitted. Understandably, that uncertainty makes people nervous. It is the job of those in government to take control of the situation by showing its people that appropriate and well-thought procedures are in place for their safety. It is also government’s job to communicate properly with its citizens to ensure everyone gets correct information, and to stave off panic.

    Instead, internet users get trolls, trolls who attack people online and spread disinformation, calling those who advocated for temporary travel restrictions as “racist.” Instead of disseminating information that will inform and protect, they sent out propaganda to misinform and attack. That tactic, I suppose, is what they call “tapang at malasakit.”

    We see before our midst the fruit of a foreign policy that is subservient to China. Afraid of offending its friends in Beijing, our officials have effectively relegated the interest of Filipinos to the back burner, instead choosing to keep our borders open to possible carriers so as not to offend the feelings of China. Again, we speak here of the Chinese government and not its people, who are more in danger of contracting the coronavirus.

    Despite the delayed action, I hope that government wakes up from its deep, lumbering sleep and snaps into action. After all, a virus is never political, and can harm anyone regardless of belief or position. And to the armies of trolls who continue to divide and disinform the public, remember that you too can catch the flu. So wash your hands for the rest of your lives—you may be able to wash and keep clean, but you’ll never get the stain off your souls.

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