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Fandoms can help fight disinformation, prod celebrities to act on key issues – UP study

Rochel Bernido
Fandoms can help fight disinformation, prod celebrities to act on key issues – UP study
UP researchers say that in the past, the call for celebrities to be more political was not as amplified. However, this changed as the norm favored instant feedback in the age of social media.

MANILA, Philippines – Fandoms can prod celebrities to act on key issues and also help in the fight against disinformation, according to the findings of a study conducted by University of the Philippines (UP) researchers.

“The Passion of Fans: How fandom can encourage more active participation and help fight disinformation,” a study conducted by Professor Cherish Aileen Brillon and Gerard Martin Suarez, researchers from the UP Department of Broadcast Communication, highlighted the connection between the entertainment industry, politics, and fandom. 

The researchers explored how fandoms can be at the forefront of the fight against disinformation, and offer a new model of citizen participation and social movement through their very own practices.

“When we talk about fandom, we’re talking about the social and cultural practices that are created and applied by the fans. We’re basically talking about how people, who are fans of celebrities, have transformed that ‘passion’ into something else,” says Brillon. 

“There is [also] an increasing attention that is being given by the media outlets on the voices of the fans and netizens on social media. Nagiging sila ‘yung focus ng mga balita (They are becoming the focus of news stories),” the researcher added. (READ: Propaganda machine meets its match: Celebrity fandoms)

The study cited celebrities who refused to speak up or had a disappointing response to crucial social issues, including ABS-CBN artists Toni Gonzaga and Karla Estrada.

Methodology

In analyzing the role of fandoms in their study, the researchers sifted through the following hashtags: 

  • #ToniGonzaga
  • BBEToni
  • #UnbotheredQueenToniG
  • NoToABSCBNShutdown
  • bothered
  • BBM
  • Karla Estrada
  • Queen Mother
  • Tingog Partylist
  • Kathniel Gising
  • WithdrawKarlaEstrada

The data spanned the 2016 vice presidential election up to the 2022 elections. This period covers the shutdown of broadcast media giant ABS-CBN, Gonzaga’s endorsement of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., and the time the internet started buzzing with memes created by “kakampinks” or supporters of the Leni Robredo-Kiko Pangilinan tandem, and Marcos Jr.-Sara Duterte supporters. 

Following the conversations related to the entertainment industry, politics, and fandoms, the researchers looked at prominent pages and analyzed posts with the most engagement in terms of likes, shares, and comments. The study also observed the online citizen practices of supporters of Robredo and Marcos Jr.

Fans vs Toni Gonzaga 

Following the non-renewal of the franchise of broadcast media giant ABS-CBN – widely criticized as an assault in press freedom – fans called out celebrities for staying silent on the issue, among them, Gonzaga. (READ: ABS-CBN shutdown, Maria Ressa threat borne of Duterte’s ‘contempt’ for press – int’l human rights lawyer).

Gonzaga was especially singled out due to her status as one of the networks’ biggest stars.

Other top Kapamilya stars who spoke up about the issue and protested against the shutdown of the network were Angel Locsin, Enchong Dee, Anne Curtis, Janine Gutierrez, Kathryn Bernardo, and Daniel Padilla, among other ABS-CBN artists. 

Gonzaga’s silence regarding the shutdown of her home network for 16 years turned her into a polarizing figure to netizens who were either for or against the Duterte administration, according to the study. Gonzaga maintained this image when she showed support for dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (READ: [OPINION] On Toni Gonzaga interviewing Bongbong Marcos

During this period, many articles, Facebook posts, and YouTube videos surfaced, emphasizing the framing that fans – Kapamilya fans and fans of various celebrities – are the source of such criticism. 

For instance, a YouTube video titled “Netizen, MINURA sina SARAH GERONIMO, TONI GONZAGA at ALEX GONZAGA!!”, reached various celebrity and political Facebook pages. The video, which was widely shared online, might be among the reasons why Gonzaga released a statement sympathetic to the 11,000 ABS-CBN employees affected by the franchise denial, according to the study. 

Kathniels vs Karla Estrada

Karla Estrada, a Kapamilya star and the mother of actor Daniel Padilla, also drew the ire of fans in relation to the ABS-CBN shutdown. 

Their complaint against Karla is not due to her silence over the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise but her decision to become part of Tingog Sinirangan, the party-list group whose current representative, Yedda Romualdez, voted for the non-renewal of the franchise. (READ: Karla Estrada nominated by party-list group that rejected ABS-CBN franchise

#WithdrawKarlaEstrada started trending as soon as Estrada’s Tingog Sinirangan nomination was announced. 

However, according to the study, Facebook posts and tweets revealed that the involvement and assertiveness of fans of Kathniel – onscreen couple Daniel and Kathryn Bernardo – regarding Karla’s party-list choice issue has more to do with the reputation of Daniel than Estrada herself. 

‘Hindi lang sila artista’

“I think importante ‘yung na-create na espasyo sa kasalukuyan, na hindi puwedeng tahimik lang ang mga paboritong artista sa mga bagay na nakaapekto sa amin bilang tao, hindi lang bilang fans,” Brillon said.

(I think what’s important is the creation of that space, that your favorite stars cannot just stay silent on matters that personally affect them, not just as fans.)

The researchers said that in the past, the call for celebrities to be more political was not as amplified. However, this changed as the norm favored instant feedback in the age of social media. The criticisms of fans started to have consequences for the celebrities. 

In February, Gonzaga announced that she would leave reality show Pinoy Big Brother, after hosting the show since 2005. She did not cite any particular reason, but she left the show a day after she appeared at the proclamation rally of the late dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Jr.

“I think she (Gonzaga) was forced to resign as the host of Pinoy Big Brother right after she declared her support for the Uniteam,” said Brilon.

As for Estrada, Brilon said, “There is also an online petition going around the fans of Magandang Buhay, that Regine Velasquez permanently replace Karla Estrada even after the election.”

According to the study, “this is an indicator that fans are beginning to see their favorite celebrities or idols as more than entertainment figures, but as an integral part of the country’s political landscape.”

Journalists are also starting to recognize the power of fans in driving political conversations, as the framing of news stories emphasizes the role of fans in criticizing celebrities’ position on certain social issues. 

Fandom and politics

What happens now when supporters of public figures and officials behave like fans themselves, and public officials are treated like celebrities? 

“This election, we realized na parang mayroong naiba. Bakit parang ang daming sobrang gustong makilahok ngayon? Not just celebrities, but also fans. Bakit ngayon, parang ang daming openly political in this campaign period?” Suarez said.

(This election, we realized that there’s something different. Why does it seem that so many people want to participate? Not just celebrities, but also fans. Why is it that now, there seems to be so many people who are openly political in this campaign period?)

The study cited the record rally numbers, the volunteer efforts of securing the performances of over 30 artists, and the virality of a campaign song on the Spotify charts.

“This is a game changer, in a sense na, celebrities are voluntarily campaigning for the public officials. Kasi previously, they endorse for a fee. Kaya hindi naman masyadong usapin dati kung naga-align ang values [nila],” Brillon said. 

(This is a game changer, in a sense that celebrities are voluntarily campaigning for the public officials. Because previously, they endorse for a fee. Whether they align in terms of value was not talked about before.)

Fandoms can help fight disinformation, prod celebrities to act on key issues – UP study
Political participation in the 2022 elections 

In assessing the main events which led to this vigorous offline and online political participation of individuals in the 2022 elections, the researchers identified three: the Duterte administration’s pandemic response, the spread of community pantries, and the shutdown of ABS-CBN.

With the underwhelming pandemic response of President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration’s military-centered approach to a health issue, people used social media in voicing out their anger. 

Community pantries, a food donation drive initiated by volunteers, also sprouted across the country due to the poor pandemic response. “More than just a ‘noble instrument to help others,’ community pantries also served as a political message to the administration, criticizing their failure and presenting an example of an active alternative,” the researchers said in their study.

The shutdown of ABS-CBN pushed celebrities and fans to finally go out of their comfort zones and make “an active and visible stance” on a political issue. It is also important to note that the shutdown not only affected the artists, but also communities in far-flung areas dependent on the network for the latest news. 

“We may have an abundance of entertainers and entertainment practices in Philippine politics, but that doesn’t mean that people are entertained into complacency nor do they stop caring about things that matter to them,” the study said.

“In this light, digital political participation in the Philippines is better understood as an informed response to the greater political context in which it operates, and has been an empowering force for democratic participation,” it added. – Rappler.com