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Historian Ambeth Ocampo fights back against online trolls

By NICK GARCIA Published Aug 17, 2022 5:30 pm Updated Aug 17, 2022 5:49 pm

Historian, professor, columnist and award-winning author Ambeth Ocampo is not afraid to call out trolls.

Ocampo is pushing back online against keyboard warriors and troll armies that have long plagued the cyberspace and Philippine democracy with their vitriol and disinformation—to the detriment of journalists, historians, and those who stand up for what's right.

"Patola is my new nickname," Ocampo wrote in his official Facebook page Aug. 16. Ocampo first publicly referred to the nickname in an interview with veteran journo Ian Esguerra on Facts First last July 11.

"High time I shout out the trolls who infest my page with their inanities."

He shared screenshots of his short but stark replies to user comments calling him "bias," as well as "yellow" and "pink," colors associated with the Liberal Party and former vice president Leni Robredo; even a "Marites" or gossipmonger.

Ocampo's bout of troll attacks isn't exactly new (he wrote a column for Inquirer about it last March), but it worsened during the run-up to the May 9 elections when Ocampo shared historical information about corruption and abuse during the martial rule under Ferdinand Marcos.

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"Trolls from the dark side invaded my Page, triggered by a comment about being on the Right Side of History," he wrote in his Facebook post May 7. "When my post was shared, for example by Philstar, reaction was more violent and mindless."

"Some presume to lecture me on history, while the majority try to cancel me by questioning my background and motives, many hurl curses because they are bankrupt of ideas or arguments. One even said I look like a fish monger in their neighborhood market!"

During his Facts First interview, Ocampo recalled how he initially brushed off troll attacks that only apparently followed templates. But he said newer comments were getting more personal, with explicit references to his written works and even his being a Benedictine monk.

"Iyon ang sinasabi ko lagi pag nagsusulat o nagle-lecture ako. I use energy to generate life," Ocampo said on Facts First. "They (trolls) use energy to generate heat."

Despite trying his hardest to not feed the trolls, even resorting to outright blocking them, Ocampo said the attacks were still deeply affecting him, so much so that he thought of deactivating his page.

But his friends and colleagues, he said, reminded him that that would mean leaving his tens of thousands of supporters in the air.

"Sabi ko, 'Sige na nga, pagtiyagaan natin,'" he said, noting there's comfort in knowing there are people rallying behind him. "Pero ngayon, talagang tumitindi ang trolls."

From time to time, Ocampo makes sure to respond to eyebrow-raising comments in his page, whether they're trolling or merely ill-informed. He even throws shade when acknowledging comments that are supportive of him.

Aside from addressing trolls, Ocampo has also pushed back online against red-tagging. In a post, he questioned why the government agency National Historical Commission of the Philippines, of which he's chairman, is being associated with the communist movement.

Social Weather Stations survey conducted from Dec. 12 to 16, 2021, and published Feb. 25 found that 51% of 1,440 respondents find it difficult to spot "fake news" on television, radio, or social media. Some 67% of them, meanwhile, lamented that the problem of fake news on the internet is serious.

In 2018, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s Global Politics and Government Outreach director, called the Philippines as “patient zero” in the global war against disinformation.

"You push back not because it's Ambeth Ocampo," Ocampo said. "You push back because they're eroding our trust in history, truth, professionalism, expertise, academe."