Since 2016, my colleagues and I have authored multiple studies about social media disinformation and influence operations and their pernicious consequences to political debate, trust in the electoral process, and even the quality of our personal relationships. The problem has become so much more profound than the attention-hacking stunts and silly distraction peddled by bloggers and influencers. In our recent Harvard University study Parallel Public Spheres: Influence Operations in the 2022 National Elections or Mga Mundo na Hindi Magtagpo: Ang Kapangyarihan ng Influence Operations noong Halalan 2022 sa Pilipinas, we raised the alarm on how political divides do not simply “stay” on social media. In fact, these are real-world fractures we must learn to carefully navigate in our classrooms, workplaces, barangays, even our closest friendships and family relationships.
When my co-author Nicole Curato and I deliver lectures to Filipino college and high school students, the most common questions asked of us by young people are: “How do I talk to my mom who voted for Marcos?” or “How do I talk to my teacher who retells a different narrative about EDSA?” Indeed, the tools of cancel culture and “pile-ons” look convenient and irresistible online when we leverage the support of like-minded followers. But offline we realize these techniques are too blunt when we’re in face-to-face conversations with a radicalized tita, teacher, or client.