Anyone who gets news online has probably seen or heard of the viral video sensation that is Christopher Lao. Last week amidst typhoon Lando, GMA aired a video of Lao’s Nissan Exalta stopping and literally floating along a flooded street in Quezon City. In a matter of hours, Lao became an object of ridicule on Twitter and Facebook and a sadly, a victim of online bullying.
A Facebook fanpage attacking Lao garnered almost 50,000 fans in one day. More fanpages are being made about the “guy who thought he was driving a boat”, either poking Lao’s arrogance or the debut of his sensitive male parts on national TV. While Twitter users like @sophieest were also unforgiving calling the UP Law student bar candidate “bobo” and @DJEuric jokingly calling Lao the “Idiot of the Year.” Even his achievements as a former University of the Philippines Student Council member and a Summa Cum Laude in Philosophy were also used against him. Christopher Lao is an easy target – all you need is a Twitter or Facebook account and you can join in the bandwagon of name calling and cyber bullying.
Less than a month ago, GMA launched its “Think Before You Click” campaign, acknowledging that the power of social media is a great responsibility. With a click away, you can join the conversation or make the conversation by sharing information with your community. It’s easy to use and definitely, easy to abuse. “Think about the repercussions of what you are about to post, will it hurt others, could it potentially hurt me, or those who I care about the most? It’s hard to take back what you’ve posted online, and everything has an effect.” – a very insightful statement published on the “Think Before You Click” promotional text on GMA’s website.
Who would have thought that GMA’s online media campaign would have been totally negated with one video that’s supposedly reporting on the conditions of the metro’s streets while a nasty typhoon threatens the safe levels of the Marikina River and Ipo Dam? GMA reporter Jun Veneracion may have pushed Lao into being defensive, asking him why he did not “realize” that the water was too deep for cars to pass through. Yes, the video warned motorists to steer clear of that area in Quezon City alright, but it also zeroed in on Lao’s arrogance and poor decision-making. Highlighting a rich and intelligent person’s seeming stupidity would make a much more interesting story than a law student braving the flood to get to his daughter, would it not?
I don’t know what triggered GMA News to pull down the video from their website, but I’m glad that they acknowledged their bad call in airing it. Howie Severino, editor-in-chief of GMA News Online issued a statement about the matter: “Mr. Lao was already victimized by the flood and a lack of warnings. He shouldn’t be victimized again. Many of us could have been in his situation. We are urging the public to stop the insults, as this has become a case of cyber bullying. We regret that our video, which was meant to provide a lesson for all motorists, was used in any way to make fun of another person.”
Former UP College of Law Dean Marvic Leonen defended Lao in a Facebook post saying, “You may be amused by the mistakes or misfortunes of others. But this does not entitle you to degrade their entire character or make conclusions about their whole person.”
The “Think Before You Click” campaign promotes responsible use of social media, with the clever slogan reiterating that with just one click, we have as much power to tear down as we do to build up. How many clicks would it take to build something back up?
There are two lessons I’ve learned from this hulabaloo. Firstly, social media is just a tool to amplify a story and it will certainly magnify whatever is being communicated, no matter what the intention. Secondly, this shows classic human behavior – to prey on the weak. At the end of the day, people chose Lao as a target instead of a big corporation as GMA for putting a private citizen in bad light or even the MMDA who failed to put warning signs for the safety of commuters.
My college friend, Rowena Ricalde, who knows Christopher Lao from the UP College of Law wrote:
“Chris is my blockmate. When I saw this video, like most of us, I laughed. But, having all the free time in the world to make fan pages and post hate messages and tweets is another.
Chris does not deserve this. At all. When my brother asked me if he was an arrogant guy (as he was portrayed in the news bit), I told him not at all – and that is the most ironic thing about this. It was edited in such a way that it made Chris look like a douche. The news bit did not serve any purpose but to humiliate Chris. And this, I say, is irresponsible journalism.
In our block, he is our savior from terror professors. Everybody knows he studies all the material for our class. He is not the type of guy who raises his hand in class and interjects non-sense questions (law students, you know the type I’m talking about). Chris does not even raise his hand in class. He only recites if the professor calls his name. He is the type of guy who the professor calls if nobody can answer the question. He is the type of guy who can stand in recitation for four-hour lectures.
The news bit did not even mention why he has to go brave the floods. Chris is currently studying for the bar exams. To all law students and lawyers, you know the intense pressure that goes in this process. Moreover, Chris is a father. He was on his way to his daughter since his wife was stranded in the office.
Chris hails from Mindanao hence his unfamiliarity with the streets of Metro Manila. And he just learned how to drive when he was in law school.
Having said that, Chris even issued an apology for his tirade caught on video and for blaming everybody but himself in the mishap (welcome to the law profession, Chris, where our motto is cover your own ass).
I know ignoring the issue would do more good for Chris. I guess, this would be the last time I will mention this issue.
To Chris, after the bar exams – and we are all sure you’re going to ace that – tell us if you need help. Let’s draft laws to prevent this from ever happening again. Or let’s sue who we can sue (let’s check the prescription for libel on this one).”