November 05, 2010

A plea for a return to sanity

I’M sure everyone by now knows how one assistant secretary named Mai Mislang, working for P-Noy’s communications team, tweeted insensitive remarks about Vietnam while the President and other officials were being hosted by that government.

Suffice to say, what she did was wrong. She has come to this realization, has apologized to all, and deleted her Twitter account. In a few months or so, those tweets will be gone from cyberspace, contrary to the common belief that it will hang around forever. (Believe me, I’ve done it. Not even goggling my old deleted tweets have turned up as a cache file. Look it up in the Twitter FAQ.)*

Let me say that I personally don’t know Ms. Mislang. Whatever my comments about the incident are purely from my own insights as a tweeter, and as one who has done probably more stupid things than Ms. Mislang. And, yes, my parents would probably never have forgiven me if they had known about those little indiscretions at the time.

As someone who tweets, I know exactly how a thought that pops into one’s head can be out the door and onto cyberspace in less than a minute. One can be thoughtful or stupid, generous or heartless, forgiving or cruel, funny or corny...and the entire world (or your band of followers) will know about it in a split second.

You know it’s just like texting your private thoughts to your friends, except that in the case of Twitter, you tweet them via a computer or a cell phone to a whole bunch of people, some of whom you personally don’t know. I started using Twitter because of my advocacy during the last presidential elections, as I sought to inform people about their candidates @Pulitika2010.

Post-May 2010, however, I started using the same account as a personal pulpit. I post links to my column, news items I deem important and that I want to share with my “followers”, post photos of dishes I like in this or that restaurant, joke around with a few pals who are also on Twitter, and basically share my general thoughts on certain issues.

Tweeting is almost like having a microphone stuck to your mouth, only it works faster. Sometimes using the medium does make one an unthinking dolt and liable to hurt people’s feelings. I realized one day that I was still tweeting in a public setting and, more or less, some of my tweets could be misconstrued in a negative way if other people read them. So I deleted some seemingly insensitive or idiotic comments, and have put my account in privacy mode.

I have since restrained myself from shooting off and now behave in a more respectable tweeting manner that my parents and other relatives wouldn’t be ashamed of. Once in a while, of course, the dirty jokes will be tweeted but we can have a little fun sometimes, right?

In Ms. Mislang’s case, her tweets were public and reaped a barrage of negative comments. As of today, there have been two reported Facebook pages dedicated to hating on Ms. Mislang. I didn’t visit those pages, because I abhor that kind of cruelty.

People have talked about Ms. Mislang’s insensitivity and her lack of breeding. Her parents may have not brought her up well, as one columnist suggested. As someone who grew up with three other siblings who received generally the same kind of lessons and nurturing from our parents, I can say that one can’t blame the parents all the time. My siblings and I all turned out differently. A person is shaped not only by one’s parents attitudes, but also by one’s environment, specifically one’s education and one’s peers.

When you read all the comments about Ms. Mislang, I wonder sometimes who actually lacks breeding. The commenters themselves have become the ones insensitive and cruel, calling into question even Ms. Mislang’s general appearance. Some have even been so downright self-righteous, it’s like no one ever said or did anything stupid or remotely indecent when they were young! I’m just bothered that the level of discourse on this issue has degraded to one of shallowness and an utter disregard for another person's humanity.

The media seems to have even joined the crusade against Ms. Mislang with one outlet publishing a piece (I call it a dissertation) on...hala kayong lahat...the “Dangers of Tweeting”. Slow news day, eh? No more babies left in airplane bathrooms lately? One generally respected columnist who also joined the drubbing of Ms. Mislang has actually written some factually inaccurate pieces before, but no one’s crucified her for those stories.

Good God, people, get a grip already! No one died. There was no diplomatic protest filed over Ms. Mislang’s tweets. In the grand scheme of things, she is so low in the Palace hierarchy, why would anyone bother? She’s just a speechwriter, isn’t she? And I use the word “just” not to denigrate it, but to differentiate her job from those of higher government officials with the larger responsibilities of running the country. Her tweet had nothing to do directly with her job, so why should she be fired? She certainly is no Rico Puno! And yes like any young person who has made any stupid mistake before, she deserves a second chance, or else how will she learn and redeem herself?

Sure, you say this is symptomatic about how the present dispensation in Malacañang likes to run things, and the kind of people P-Noy wants to be surrounded with. Then maybe we should direct all our comments to P-Noy instead, right? Or to Ricky Carandang maybe, who even tweeted her back asking if it was the red or white wine. Ricky was a terrific broadcaster, but as head of P-Noy’s communications team, sadly he has misfired and mishandled this entire situation. He already should’ve called Ms. Mislang’s attention with her first wrongful tweet. Why? Because he’s older and should’ve have known better. (Although I’ve just read his tweet page to check if it was still up and was absolutely horrified at the awfully offensive comments there. Don’t these commenters have any work to do? Good grief!)

I believe Ms. Mislang has ready learned her lesson, so everyone should calm down already. I pity the girl because this experience will surely scar her for life. She will be forever known as “the girl who tweeted that the wine sucked.” She probably deserves it, you say, but, gads, can’t we give her a break already? Like Jon Stewart, I urge us all to return to sanity.

Peace, people.

(My column Something Like Life is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Cartoon from the Sketchbook of Aaron Riddle.)

*(UPDATE): Of course I didn't count on people actually capturing the image of the back and forth tweets by Ms. Mislang and Ricky, so yes, apparently this unfortunate exchange will remain in cyberspace forever. Tsk, tsk. I think the way to go now for most gov't officials is, not to use their personal Twitter accounts for the meantime, unless these are used directly for info purposes. But I know the Official Gazette already has its own Twitter account, so maybe they can use that for info dissemination or the Palace and other gov't agencies can set up their own accounts for that purpose. For unofficial communication, try texting or the good old phone call instead.

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