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PH social media drowning in fallacies and incivility

/ 12:30 AM August 31, 2016

PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire – Politics and social media appear to be a toxic mix. Often, both sides of a political issue furiously accuse each other of idiocy so that the truth becomes the main casualty in the crossfire. In the Philippines, a sampling of the comments made by readers on an article shows emotion-laden discourse that largely fails a simple logic test.

The comments section of the following article was used for this brief survey; it is decidedly limited (with a total of 67 comments at the time of writing), but for those who spend time reading comments sections of online media in the Philippines, the quality of the posts is probably quite typical, perhaps lamer than usual:


“A plea for humanity” by Dr. Ed Gamboa, posted on August 18, 2016. The article matter-of-factly argues against extrajudicial killings based on legal, moral and practical grounds.

Of all the 67 comments on the article, only about five appear to be well-argued, logical points.


Non sequiturs, sweeping generalizations …

A good number (about 27 percent) of the comments are best classified as non sequitur, sweeping generalization, appeal to emotion and/or argumentum ad populorum.

According to the peer-reviewed Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP), “When a conclusion is supported only by extremely weak reasons or by irrelevant reasons, the argument is fallacious and is said to be a non sequitur.

Toward the end of his article, Gamboa proposes the contours of a legal, humane and practical approach to the drug menace: “Instead of simply going after poor slum dwellers, why not go to the root source of the problem? Wouldn’t it make more sense to cut the source of drugs: China, primarily? To beef up security at entry points? To prosecute drug lords, narcopoliticians, corrupt police and military, compromised judges? To rectify the justice system? When the head of the octopus is severed, the tentacles will wither.”

To that, pej1972 replies, “A piece to say the theoretical approach (to) solving the (drug) problem, which previous administrations failed (to implement). If what this author says is effective, we will not be wasting a lot of taxpayer’s money on this war on drugs now.”

If previous administrations failed to implement Gamboa’s proposed solutions, how can pej1972 leap to the conclusion that they are not effective?

One common argument used by supporters of extrajudicial killings is to appeal to emotions. The IEP defines this logical fallacy as an attempt make someone “accept their claim … merely because the appeal arouses your feelings of anger, fear, grief, love, outrage, pity, pride, sexuality, sympathy, relief and so forth.”


Here’s a classic appeal to emotion post by eugene_dlc1973 addressed to Gamboa: “Where do you currently reside? Have you ever tried walking alone in one dark alley of a slum area? Or have you even tried walking in the Malate area with your wife and a small child in the middle of the night? If you say yes (to) those questions, do you feel safe or (do) you keep looking over your shoulder while walking? Have you ever bumped into some kids (three to be exact), 15 years old or so, with knife and steel pipe (in) their hands, trying to decide if they just need to stab you or hit you with the pipe or both? Very courageous kids because they (were) so high at the time … Maybe you don’t worry about (these) things, because you are caged (in) a well-secured posh subdivision and travel in your luxury car and only visit high-end malls and restaurants, or maybe you are not even residing in Philippines …”

Instead of directly arguing against the legal, moral and practical points raised by Gamboa, readers like eugen_dlc1973 try to appeal to fear and guilt to assert their stand.

Similarly, supporters of extrajudicial killings often post on social media their now ubiquitous question: “Where is the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) when innocent civilians are murdered, raped and robbed by drug addicts?” There is a straightforward answer to that question—that is, the CHR’s constitutional mandate is not fighting crime but fighting human rights abuses involving civil and political rights, so they have nothing to do with daily crimes and police work. It is like asking where the nurses and doctors are (not the fire department) to put out a raging fire. But the emotion-laden rhetorical question suits those who would rather not see the CHR meddle in the government’s war on drugs.

Ad hominems

Perhaps even more alarming is that up to 42 percent of the comments can be categorized as ad hominems. A reasoning contains this logical fallacy, according to the IEP, “if you make an irrelevant attack on the arguer and suggest that this attack undermines the argument itself.” For example, Magnetic Levitation writes, “Inquirer is a tabloid with tabloidic-minded authors. Be a real writer for once.”

And when an exchange turns personal, it often quickly gets out of control, with each party resorting to insults and name-calling. Instead of exchanging viewpoints and learning something new, the discourse degenerates into a childish, mean-spirited game of one-upmanship. Do_SJC, for instance, calls another reader a “Dutertard,” which is predictably followed by an exchange of “Sabog,” “Idiot,” and “Shonga.”

The rest of the comments (24 percent) are simple statements with no arguments to add. They are unqualified statements of support, a simple LOL, or totally unrelated to the topic.

It should be noted that this particular comments section does not include actual threats of bodily harm either to the author or other readers. It is not uncommon for readers hiding behind anonymous handles to become belligerent enough to issue dire, thuggish threats.

RIP comments, constructive discourse

With plenty of reader comments failing the logic and civility test, it is no surprise that some global media outlets have completely closed their comments section. These include Bloomberg, The Verge, The Daily Beast, Motherboard, Recode, Reuters, Popular Science, The Week, Mic and USA Today’s FTW.

In the Philippines, Rappler recently felt compelled to “aggressively delete crude and disrespectful posts and comments that violate standards of civility” to ensure that its readers “feel safe to express (themselves) without being attacked and swarmed by an army of anonymous commenters who seek to silence and tame.”

Promoting constructive public discourse is important, because laws and policies must be justifiable or acceptable to the governed. The desirability of political consensus based on thoroughly debated “public reason” is rooted in the work of Hobbes, Kant and Rousseau—great philosophers who probably did not contemplate the rise of social media and the pervasive incivility and lack of depth that now characterize public discourse.

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TAGS: ad hominem, Dr. Ed Gamboa, Dutertard, extrajudicial killings, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP), non sequitur, Philippine Commission on Human Rights, Philippines drug war, social media incivility, social media rants
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