Opinion

An Anti-Bullying Drive Has Been Overshadowed by Fake News—Everyone Loses

Back off of Penshoppe—you’ve been fooled.
IMAGE Instagram.com/Franco.Mabanta
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There’s a bit of irony, and perhaps poetic injustice, in what’s happened to Penshoppe over the past week. The brand just launched its first public CSR project: #IAmDifferent, an anti-bullying campaign that gets celebrities and social media personalities to speak out against bullying. On Monday, October 23, Penshoppe held a launch event for the campaign, which was attended by some of their endorsers and influencers.

Nothing too extraordinary, in itself. Brands love getting in on relevant social issues, and as long as they’re sincere and can navigate all the nuances correctly, everyone wins.

But days later, Penshoppe found itself in the center of controversy, cornered and castigated by the woke folks on social media. People were mocking the #IAmDifferent campaign for supposedly getting Franco Mabanta as an endorser.

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In case you don’t know who Franco Mabanta is: He’s a social media personality, a talk show and events host, and a “Political + social commentator” (his words, not ours). As a vocal supporter of President Rodrigo Duterte, Mabanta has been actively supporting other pro-Duterte personalities on social media, and sparring with those of opposite political views. Mabanta recently posted a
misogynistic Facebook tirade against Jover Laurio, the blogger behind The Pinoy Ako Blog.

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His post, which has since been deleted by Facebook, called Laurio “super ugly”, “profoundly disgusting”, and an “Ogre Lady” who he wouldn’t kiss if the fate of the nation depended on it. He also said that “If she got naked in front of you for ANY reason, odds are quite high that you’d experience the rare and mythical reverse erection.”

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Naturally, the angry reacts piled on.

Mabanta then followed it up with another post, saying he’d agree to kiss Laurio on certain terms, but that he thought it would feel like sexual harassment. He tagged this post with #MeToo (a global hashtag that’s been used by victims of sexual harassment following the revelations about Harvey Weinstein). Mabanta later issued an apology for tagging his post with #MeToo, saying it was an “awful decision” and that he is “in the process of writing a more thorough apology.”

But the bottomline remains: Franco Mabanta is not exactly the best spokesperson for an anti-bullying campaign. In fact, given the timing, he’s the absolute worst spokesperson. So why did Penshoppe get him as an endorser?

The answer is that they didn’t. Franco Mabanta is not a Penshoppe endorser, and not an endorser of the #IAmDifferent campaign. 

So why was he in this that Penshoppe tweet?

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Fake news is why.

Penshoppe didn't actually tweet this photo. It's a fake photo that's been going around social media.

Sources who were at the event did say that Mabanta was just a plus-one of an invited guest. Mabanta asked for a shirt, snapped this photo, then left. The photo, contrary to some speculation, isn't doctored. One of the other people in this photo confirmed that Mabanta did pose for this photo with them. Mabanta then posted the photo on his own Instagram and Facebook. But Penshoppe never did.

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The official press release of Penshoppe doesn’t list him among their endorsers, either: The list on the release includes Bella Hadid, Lucky Blue Smith, Kaia Gerber, and Sandara Park; as well as ClubPenshoppePH members Loisa Andalio, Ronnie Alonte, Sofia Andres, Tanner Mata, Maria Fabiana, and Emilio Perez.

Mabanta has never himself claimed to be an endorser of the brand or of the campaign, to be fair. But he has also never denied it—and he even replies to comments on his post that ask about the price of the #IAmDifferent shirt, as if trying to give the impression that he is.

Unfortunately, among those taken in were personalities who tweeted their dismay, including Dr. Margarita Holmes and, ironically, Pinoy Ako Blog. The latter has since posted a retraction, quoting Penshoppe insiders who confirmed that fakery.


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So back off of Penshoppe for a while, and use our time instead to reflect on the alarming power of fake news and the breadth of its purview. Fake news has effectively co-opted an otherwise sincere anti-bullying campaign and turned its supporters into bullies themselves. People laid into Penshoppe hard, without realizing that they had been fooled by a doctored tweet. Now, the discussion is a little less about bullying, and a little more about Franco Mabanta and his politics. And in that discussion, everyone loses.

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