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The lesson from the ugly, senseless distraction called Ahcee Flores

04:56 PM February 09, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO—Another calamity. This time, an earthquake that struck Negros and Cebu, killing dozens, possibly more.

And yet again, the Filipino cyberworld was quickly abuzz with expressions of grief, concern, a desire to help.

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But then a discordant note: A reader using the name “Ahcee Flores” calls on others to pray for a tsunami that would kill even more people — “para maraming bisaya ang mamatay, para mabawasan ang mga baduy sa Pilipinas.’’

By now, Ahcee Flores, whoever he or she is, has become the most hated person in the vast, growing Filipino realm of the World Wide Web.

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I’m not writing this to attack him or her. No need for that.

Thousands have already expressed the disgust that those of us saddened by yet another calamity to hit our homeland feel.

I certainly understand the outrage. People have a right to be angry. My wife and I have family and friends in Cebu and Negros.

But I’m now also calling on Filipinos in cyberspace to take a pause, take a deep breath and let it go.

There will always be trolls. There will always be hate-mongers.

We don’t even know who Ahcee Flores is. I know there have been many reported sightings. Some claim to have uncovered his or her real identity.

To be honest, I worry about that witch-hunt which, after all, can turn ugly. But ultimately, I’d argue, it’s a waste of time – and a waste of energy. Energy that should be directed at helping those who lost a loved one, or who lost their homes in the disaster.

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In fact, we may even thank Ahcee Flores.

For what happened is a powerful reminder of the power of social media, and the Web in general. We should take the opportunity to underscore this — especially to young Filipinos.

After all, young Filipinos now form one of the most vibrant online communities in the world.

I have a young son who is part of that world. And I never get tired telling him this message: ‘Before you post anything, before you write a comment or share an opinion or criticize or praise anything or anyone, before you send that text message, you must think, not just twice or thrice, but 10 times, before hitting the send or publish button.’

And the reason is clear: Whatever you write or post or share on Facebook or Twitter or any other Web site, it’s nearly impossible to take it back. Whatever you say or write can spread fast to a broad audience.

And, in fact, whatever you say or write will likely be stored for a long time, maybe even forever. Even if you delete them or get rid of an account, your words may still exist in some hard drive or data center.

This was underscored in the case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who committed suicide after his roommate spied on him with a webcam and then gossiped about him on Twitter.

As a recent New Yorker story revealed, a big chunk of the evidence used to build a case against Dharun Ravi, the roommate, were Twitter and text messages subpoenaed as part of the legal action.

The power of the Web. Time for young Filipinos to understand this. This unfortunate incident should serve as a powerful lesson.

Now, I’m not saying young Filipinos should not speak out. Not at all. The Web, and social media, in particular, has become such an important tool in education and even political action.

But there’s a difference between expressing a strong, even unpopular, opinion – and posting comments that are so clearly over-the-top, so clearly meant to provoke anger, to cause harm.

This is not the first time this has happened, after all. We’ve come across other Ahcee Floreses in the past. ( I certainly get my share of them in this column.)

They are the racists, and the sexists, and the homophobes. Or they are simply people, including young Filipinos, just looking to have fun – the alaskadors. ‘Katuwaan lang pare.’

Well, I don’t know who Ahcee Flores is. And I don’t know what twisted rationale he or she had for making those remarks. But they will now haunt him or her for a long time.

In the end, that’s the most important lesson from this senseless affair which, sadly, has simply distracted us from a tragedy that deserves all our attention right now.

On Twitter @KuwentoPimentel. On Facebook at www.facebook.com/benjamin.pimentel

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TAGS: Ahcee Flores, Disaster, Earthquake, Landslide, Negros, Negros Oriental
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