Hapless motorist bullied on Twitter, Facebook

MANILA, Philippines—Amid the flooding that beleaguered parts of Metro Manila last Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, an item on primetime news opened the floodgates for nearly two days’ worth of online mockery directed at a hapless motorist.

A report on GMA Network’s 24 Oras showed a car floating on floodwaters along Mother Ignacia Avenue in Quezon City. After the car was pushed by bystanders off the water, the driver was identified as Christoper Lao, who told the reporter he was “not informed” of the depth of the flooding in the area.

The video quickly went viral, with copies of the video posted on YouTube racking thousands of views in two days.YouTube logo

Many netizens mocked and took potshots at Lao on social media, with comments focusing on his statement that he “was not informed” of the depth of the flooding. Many comments, however, also maligned Lao’s person.

Tweets about the report turned “Christopher Lao” into a local and global trending topic on Twitter on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Meanwhile on Facebook, a page entitled “Christopher Lao (ang bobong sinugod ang kotse sa baha)” was put up by an unknown person. The page, as of posting time, had nearly 40,000 “likes”.

As the online cyber-bullying chorus versus Lao grew, other netizens sided with the hapless man, who is studying law at the University of the Philippines. Many even chastised those who were maligning him online.

Even former UP College of Law dean Marvic Leonen joined the online conversation by posting this statement of Facebook:

“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. Christopher Lao does not deserve the treatment he is getting from others in facebook and twitter. And yes, he is from UP College of Law and we are still proud of him.”

Lao himself issued a statement lamenting how the situation had turned out. “A bad day has now turned into wounded feelings and sleepless nights for me and my family,” Lao said. But he apologized for his behavior. (Read his full statement below.)

Others pinned the blame on GMA News, criticizing how the incident was played on television.

GMA News defended their showing of the report, saying it was “[intended] to show the public the hazards of driving through flooded streets.”

  “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. 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”
   

The news organization took down the video of the report from their website “after viewers were sharing it accompanied by insults aimed at Lao.”

Howie Severino, editor-in-chief of GMA News’ website, issued this statement:

“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. 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.”

“Christopher Lao was victimized by the flood & a lack of warnings. He shouldn’t be victimized again. Let’s put a stop to online harassment,” GMA News also tweeted on Thursday.

This controversy came just a few weeks after GMA News launched its “Think Before You Click” campaign, which aimed to spread the word about responsible use of social media. 


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Below is the statement released by Lao:

“The past few days have been very disheartening for me and my family. As you know I have been a subject of a viral video that showed my helplessness during a trying moment. As it stands right now, I have several hate pages in Facebook and Twitter with hurtful and derogatory messages attacking my person. The reputation that I built the past years has been besmirched. A bad day has now turned into wounded feelings and sleepless nights for me and my family.

I have been silent the past few days as I want this to go away soon but not before saying sorry and thank you to people who matter.

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I would like to apologize for my behavior that was seen on nationwide television and now on the internet. It was unfortunate that I was caught on camera immediately after an overwhelmingly stressful mishap.

I would like to again sincerely thank those who braved the flood to help a distraught stranger like me. Their selfless act reminded me of how dependable Filipinos are in times of crisis.

Lastly, I would like to thank my family, friends and all of those who showed empathy, consideration and support throughout these trying times. You have given me strength and courage to rise above and be a better person.”–Newsbreak

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