Of silent pandas and condescending statements

More than a week ago Earth First! Philippines, raised questions about World Wide Fund for Nature Philippines’ (WWF) affiliation with McDonalds, Aboitiz Power and their usage of tarpaulins in their materials on their Facebook page. Being an activist that values the capability of social media as a valid avenue of facilitating informed discourse I was taken aback by the response that the Facebook Page admin did. They deleted the comment.

Seeing that happen comes as a shock for me and when I tried asking about it all I got is a comment from another person affiliated with WWF saying that its because they’re about being positive and not negative. The answer gave me the impression of how ill-informed they are at the basics of social interaction within social media.

It wasn’t until a few days later when the people involved with the struggle to stop SM Baguio, from cutting down and earthballing 182 trees in Luneta Hill, to pave the way for their mall expansion project engaged them en masse about having SM as a venue provider and supposedly as their sponsor for their Earth Hour activities, wherein they responded with a vague and condescending ‘official statement’ that it has become obvious that what’s posted as legitimate concerns are not really in their radar of priorities.

I am writing this not because I am a part of Greenpeace which has always been compared to WWF. I write this because I value informed discourse and consensus so much that I believe legitimate concerns of individuals and groups should be given due priority if we are to establish a civil working relationship within the broader world of civil society and within the broader environmental movement.

But instead the response that WWF gave is that they have been branded people posting in their Facebook page their personal concerns as counter-productive, because we chose not to remain silent in expecting consistency between the praxis of what they are asking of us and the kind of work that they are doing. From the very beginning no one called in for a boycott of Earth Hour but rather we inquired in anticipation for a qualified answer to valid concerns since the whole essence of Earth Hour is for people like me to pledge to do something for an hour and to put it beyond that. That is the reason why I personally asked and was passionately irking WWF is for them to answer questions based on the issues raised first by Earth First!  and also of the many individuals who may be attached to personalities of other environmental groups but have nevertheless spoken up as individual activists.

Instead what they did is they posted a statement that not only defers the issues but have labelled us as being counter-productive and divisive.  But I would beg to differ: I cannot begin to say how this whole thing affected me personally as a one who considers them as fellow sojourners in the journey of working for a better planet. Because concerns about the broader issues of interests, pronouncements of where WWF stand in practice to the usage of toxic materials like PVC, their affiliations and the kind of relationships that they have with corporations are legitimate concerns of people in their niche who just want to understand why they are doing what they are doing even if news and broader consensus on a whole lot of other groups’ findings run counter to their position.

By choosing to censor comments by deleting them, by choosing to avoid making categorical answers and by making saliently patronizing remarks of WWF being positive and all the rest of us as being ‘divisive ‘and ‘negative’ they have closed the door for mutual conversation, learning and of finding common ground and exploring avenues for collaboration even if we do not see eye-to-eye.

Their silence and adamant refusal to engage in informed debate put forward by people on their  page has spoken more about whose voice they consider as legitimate and whose opinion they  have considered as valid. The first two paragraphs that enumerates the volume of support they have sounds more like a boast rather than a statement of their conscious responsiveness to the needs not only of the environment but also of the needs put forward by the social contract that they have with the broader environmental movement.
I rest my case. The whole ordeal feels more like talking to a condescending brick wall that would not take into consideration a voice such as mine. Thanks to WWF’s disparaging reaction on their Facebook page they made me lose all respect for the organization and the work that they’re doing.


Lea said...

Hi Chuck, nice piece. Point taken. WWF handled the matter badly by deleting the comments rather than actively responding to it. The platform to respond was theirs, the time right, and the audience waiting for their answer. Deleting the comments was the worst move to do, especially as you say, in social media.

I thought their statement was fair enough though. I mean, some of the comments (not yours) were ad hominem. And although WWF did respond badly (with censorship), they do have the right to ask for more constructive criticism (like yours, I concede), particularly from people who are, in the larger scheme of things, working in the same movement.

I agree that people are entitled to their own opinions. But I have reservations about majority of the comments, which sounded like they were from bible thumping true believers intent only on their "holier than thou" gospel.

So they've branded WWF as a sinner, what now? Does that change anything or turn the discussion to the commentors' favor? What did they achieve aside from patting themselves on the back in front of an audience?

Those who wittingly or unwittingly use polarization within the environmental community should realize that they're shooting themselves on the foot. Some of the comments only serve to alienate mainstream audiences--and it is easy to imagine they also make bad corporations squirm in glee to see very public cracks on the green front.

The fact that WWF takes money from corporations won't change--that's their operations model. The comments didn't expose anything new. But what it did expose is how the other side hasn't mastered social media, either.

If we want social media to be a platform for change or dialogue, those definitely aren't the comments we should be aiming for. I like to believe that those who think change can be achieved in the terrain of social media have the responsibility to steer the focus of discussions within this realm--lead people ask the right questions, present intelligent analyses and--most importantly--avoid vitriolic diatribe. People should make a conscious effort to foster this space in social media. Otherwise we will risk becoming mere rabble rousers--and social media will lose its power.

Hope this makes sense.

Chuck Baclagon said...

Hi Lea,

Thanks for commenting indeed your comments echo the same concern that I have as well with the other folks that swarmed at WWF's Facebook page.

However, I'd also like to respond on some of the stuff you raised in your comment...

Polarization is always a prerequisite for change and upheaval in fact history has proven this true over and over again (EDSA, October Revolution, Collapse of the Soviet Union etc)
It just might be a shot in the foot and maybe that's something that organizations can live with (after all it is better than being a shot in the face or a shot at the other). Being shot in the foot can be akin to the immediate pain that comes on something like a surgical operation or an inoculation it gives out instant pain, but nevertheless it brings about restoration.
Such instances of being attacked bible-thumping holier than thou people actually should be welcomed after all the interest of people is to understand why organizations like WWF of Greenpeace should be supported such attacks function as beneficial checks and balances so that we could always be grounded in pursuing integrity in our talk and action because remaining true to our mandate is the best service that we can provide to our audience if we are to maintain our authenticity and if we would really like to maximize on mobilizing people around the realizable possibilities offered by our work.
The ball is on WWF's court and the burden of proof is on them because they chose to defer from giving a categorical answer I think this is something that all groups should accept and even Greenpeace isn't exempt from this because we should always be challenged of our legitimacy because we ask something from people. That's why even ad hominem comments should be answered because such comments came out of un-thought-off knee-jerk responses by WWF. The response of WWF clearly shows that they'd rather work with corporations rather than attempt to find common ground with the broader community of environmentalists.
It may not have exposed something new. However, it exposed the futility of having an operations model that aligns itself with corporations.
WWF has been painted the bad guy and they will continue to be because they still haven't stated where they stand on tarpaulins, on taking funding from industries that have a poor environmental record.
All activist groups invoke an alternative consciousness based on common points of discontent and perhaps this is where online discourse is still in its infancy however, such should not be discounted. People should definitely challenge their allegiance to corporate models because it is the same framework that brought us to the present ecological crisis in the first place. Should we not deconstruct and try to develop a development paradigm that challenges this model?
Maybe we should find solace in understanding that we will always be trapped in that tension of the present because otherwise we would be content and allow the status quo to render us ineffectual in building up a better world. And maybe the key learning here is for mainstream audience to take all movements of change suspect of their support. After all the intent always is not merely to come up with numbers but eventually to come up with informed consensus that arose out of a deeper understanding of issues.

Anyways we can agree to disagree on this matter.