One celebrity posts a photo of her in a bikini captioned, “Take me back.” Some fitness influencer posts one of himself working out captioned, “Work out! No excuses!” A celebrity-cum-influencer posts a TikTok video of him mimicking a scene from some familiar and very cheesy Pinoy flick captioned, “My audition tape for a future teleserye.” It’s almost like another episode on everyone's social media feed, except that there’s a pandemic forcing everyone to stay at home at an indefinite time.
Virtually a week after the announcement of the enhanced community quarantine across Metro Manila and a few days following the proclamation of a Luzon lockdown, Filipinos are turning to social media for information and entertainment. It’s not necessarily new a situation for the world’s social media capital (the Philippines tallied an average daily consumption of 10:02 hours a day in 2019). But if there’s something easily grasped from this without further research, it’s that the quietude outside following the COVID-19 threat has been inversely proportional to people’s online behavior.
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Yet, in the middle of this heightened social media usage, some celebrities and influencers have further found themselves under the microscope. Their frequent content production, like the trends in travel, business, and other structures and economies worldwide, has been disrupted. The disruptor? The likewise online and overcritical mob—now glued to their devices and with a few taps, ready to poke and put together protests when triggered. Gal Gadot’s Instagram video of her and her celebrity friends crooning to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” for example, spawned snark on Twitter, with one user tweeting, “Imagine no possessions’ sung by some of the wealthiest people in the world.” Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth’s TikTok video of her singing operatically while scrubbing her kitchen irked some, with one tweeting, “(W)e need a rescue mission for all the personal assistants trapped in quarantine (with) their celebrity clients to film their coronavirus content.” Erstwhile teen star Vanessa Hudgens’ too-candid Instagram Live Stream where she called the COVID-19-caused deaths as “inevitable” drew straightforward jabs like “What a horrible and heartless message for you to share with the younger people who look up to you.” Locally, while some celebs who used their days-off launching their TikTok and YouTube videos in an effort to entertain their fans have been spared, some influencers jumped right into a savage fest. Cases in point: Socialite Cat Arambulo who cursed on workers out in the middle of the quarantine and blogger Chin Chin Obcena who ranted on a canned goods-dependent diet earlier, both of whom launched a myriad of comments online that mostly had “privileged” in it.
Obviously, there is no restricting any individual from using social media use—including celebrities or influencers who also earn through it via influencer marketing or just about anyone who turn to it for, of course, validation. In fact, Filipinos and every pandemic-affected country in the world are bound to live in a virtually dependent world as a way to “flatten the curve,” the New York Times recently reported. Consequently, in the months (or year) to come, everyone will utilize social media more—including for entertainment-related reasons. But while social media’s function to amuse is more valid than ever at times of crisis, experts say this use shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“The problem isn’t connection anymore, but getting lost in all the content that we’re fed on a daily basis. There’s nothing wrong with living vicariously through other people’s posts or videos online—what’s more concerning is that people forget that real life isn’t as straightforward and simple,” says PR maven and business unit head of leading digital marketing agency Xiklab Ria Gamboa.
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Social media rules have indeed changed due to the situation, experts say, so there should be really more sensitivity.
“I’m all for spreading positivity in times of calamities or crises, but there’s always a difference between ‘making light of situations’ and ‘making fun of situations or the people involved,’” explains ABS-CBN Social Media Publishing Head Krishka Ramos. “For me, it’s a matter of context and being more cautious of what you post before putting it out online.”
“It's pretty simple for me—if what you post goes against the general sentiment of a nation, especially amidst a pandemic, then there’s merit in calling you out for it,” adds Gamboa.
Irresponsibility in social media use saw its first major case in Arambulo, who first got criticized for reacting negatively to a report about stranded workers at checkpoints. She was called out as “insensitive” against minimum wage workers forced to be out during the lockdown. She then explained herself later with a video apology, instead pointing those “pasaway” out on the road but only to be accused a “gaslighter.” She finally posted another apologetic message, stressing how this hit her like “a hard lesson," as she promised to “educate myself and strive to be better.” Arambulo’s case got so much out of hand that Organique, a brand she previously endorsed even disassociated itself from her in a release.
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Yet, experts believe, more than being misused and abused, social media can still do its part in promoting good vibes. This, especially among those suffering from physical and mental health issues amid the situation and with only the internet to mostly rely on for a much-needed “connection.” Musicians like Chris Martin and John Legend, for example, held online performances as a way to amuse fans at home. Locally, actors and fitspos Enchong Dee and Winwyn Marquez taught home workouts fans can emulate as they aim for better health and immunity. Host Bianca Gonzalez, with 7.3 million followers on Twitter, has been pretty active on the platform to spread good news while relaying helpful information.
Transcending what’s seen on screen, actress Bela Padilla did her part by launching her gogetfunding.com cause that targeted street vendors whose jobs the quarantine had affected—she raised a total of PHP 3.3 million and even helped distribute goods. Bloggers part of @BloggersUnitedPH have been crowdfunding for the same cause. All over the world, Justin Bieber, Steph and Ayesha Curry, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, Crash Landing On You stars Son Hyejin and Hyun Bin, and so on have donated, making sure to go beyond just influence, some of whom using social media to propel their cause.
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But as use of social media and the internet in general intensifies, experts advise, so should these much-followed personalities' level of responsibility and accountability. Celebrities, influencers, brands, and companies, with the average person made vulnerable in the wake of the pandemic, should work extra hard in developing content with a purpose and helping reduce incidents of fake news.
“The thing with influencers is that they’re just people like you and me. Influencer or not, if someone wants to post a photo of themselves in a bikini, they should, but this doesn’t rid them of responsibility. Whether you have a hundred or a million followers, knowing that a number of people look to you on social media for advice and inspiration should help you understand how much your content can influence. At the end of the day, people shouldn’t be censored. However, you are responsible for the content you put out and the kind of image you’re promoting,” Gamboa says.
Ramos, who manages ABS-CBN’s social media pages including its Facebook account at 22 million followers, adds, “While a normal person can mostly get away with posting fake news, that is not the case for brands and big publishing companies since they have bigger following and that whatever they post can reach thousands, if not millions of pages in a matter of minutes. Whatever they post is not something they can easily just take back. When it’s out there, it’s out there. Hence, it's a must to check your content multiple times if needed be before posting. Cross-check it beyond the basics like spelling and grammar. Focus your eyes on the facts written and concepts presented, all while considering the context.”
But while there can be much ado about some personalities’ insubstantial content—from a bikini pic to a silly TikTok vid, experts also stress that posting nothing online amid a crisis might just be everything.
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Banner image from Cat Arambulo's Instagram