I’ve forgotten where I read or heard those lines, most likely a movie, but it’s just one of the very real concerns people have whenever election season comes around and, now, in the Age of Information, the concern grows stronger everyday.
The Philippines is about to go back to the polls in a week’s time. The more common concerns are the absolute absence of real issues or platforms from which an intelligent choice could be made leaving people to go for personalities, and how those who have invested so much of their (or their families’) personal fortunes in the election campaign will recover all of their investments. Less common concerns question who’s money is backing a certain candidate and what the candidate will have to turn a blind eye to as a favor to his or her patrons. Recently, however, a more disturbing concern has risen with the digital age: electronic misinformation.
It’s bad enough that not everything that a candidate says is true but their supporters have also churned out lies after lies regarding their candidates and his/her opponents. Even fact-checking has become questionable. At times, the falsification has not been limited to information but have involved commercial documents. They have crossed from what is just debatable to what is clearly criminal.
The true danger from all these is that the Philippine electorate is, sadly, a guillable lot. They will rarely question what they see, hear or read. To be sure, there are those who just don’t care but the majority can be properly educated. That education can go from being critical of a candidate’s message and platform, if any, to expanding their understanding of the workings of government. One needs to understand, for example, that the government is not a one-man administration. He or she needs the cooperation of those in the other arms of government, the legislature and judiciary, in order to fulfill any or all of his or her programs. Manipulation of this educational process just makes it more difficult to have a mature electorate. All the lies and half-truths the supporters of candidates are throwing out there is just not helping. They are perpetuating the cult of a candidate that regresses the electorate, and that is just wrong.
I read an article of how one man is hired to manipulate the information in order to influence the course of an election. He is supposed to have operated in various countries and while he claims that he was not motivated by wealth, he has been paid for his work. Interestingly enough, some candidates who hired him, directly or indirectly, won, while others did not. One can then argue that despite the manipulation of the information, its influence may not be that great. However, it must be noted that this may be a fledgling business that may later see rapid growth, especially in influence and power.
Remember, advances in flight by airplane moved rapidly within a hundred years but advances in telecommunications, best exemplified by the rise of Apple’s iPhone, just took about twenty years if not shorter. Software, something that is far more fluid than hardware, could then improve beyond imagination. The dangers that come from its malicious use could just as rapidly grow with it.
Elections are too important to be left in the hands of anyone else. The electorate should take hold of it and do everything in its power to ensure that the result accurately reflects the will of the electorate, and that will has to be of their own and not the electronic suggestions of someone else entirely.