Where society is the final frontier.
The cyber warfare between the Philippines and China is often celebrated by citizens of each country because the aggressive exchanges of online tactics bring forth an unimaginable excitement to the general public as the standoff will show who will decisively be the boss of the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoals at the end of the day. A few days ago, Chinese hackers made their way to the website of the University of the Philippines. A few days later, Filipinos shot back. Earlier today, the DBM website became a victim of Chinese vengeance.
The global debate on the threat of China as a superpower is intense. China is getting bigger. China claims this. China claims that. The ongoing territorial disputes occuring among China, Philippines, Vietnam, and other countries within the region bring the the military capability of each nation under the spotlight. While actual military violence is being reserved as the final option, the recent cyber showdown between the two countries do breed dangerous implications that are subtle and often ignored.
While the act of hacking done by parties from both countries has been labelled as witty, sneaky, funny, and even downright shitty, little attention is given to the possibility that such acts can be considered as forms of symbolic violence. Symbolic violence, as coined by Pierre Bourdieu, points out to conscious actions that have unconscious discriminatory meanings.
It doesn’t take an extraordinary eyesight to see and realize that this online standoff is not, in any way, a threat to each nation’s survival as it does not possess the killing capacity of a Chinese Type 99 tank. However, even through online discourses, we can see here how the effects of the dirty game of international politics can trickle down to our daily social habits.
Glorifying the online attacks can indeed cultivate an identity that fosters a strong sense of nationalism among the citizens of the Philippines and China. But does it come with a high price?
On a daily basis, we expose our five senses to an overwhelming variety of social patterns that we usually take for granted. Here comes the danger of symbolic violence. With the hot-blooded dispute between the Philippines and big China and the subsequent online skirmish which is being applauded by many, people are at a vulnerable position where their ideas of prejudice can be easily redefined and intensified in the long run. Think about it. After getting emotional and identifying yourself as an online defender of the country, what crosses your mind when you see a Chinese gentleman who is walking down the street? What comes into the mind of a Chinese hacker when he sees a Filipino family spending time in a particular public park? And just to add, how genuinely Chinese are these so-called Chinese hackers?
The fight for territory becomes a breeding ground for bigotry against an identified “enemy”. Conflict at the micro level becomes magnified. Our patterned behavior may be unconsciously altered as we express hidden discriminatory messages in daily dominant discourses whenever we interact with somebody who belongs to “the other side”.
With the constant pressure from the populace and the random acts of symbolic violence done by the citizens, I can only hope that the present social arrangements will allow a space for an effective diplomatic settlement.
A cyber conflict is risky enough. An actual warfare is the last thing we obviously need.