'Stolen' MOA Globe Prank Was Funny Until the Joke Was on the News

It brought up a long-standing debate in Philippine media.
Photo/s: Facebook/SM Mall of Asia

Filipinos over the weekend had one more thing to worry about on top of the dizzying circus that was the substitution dance at Comelec: the internet was made to think that the giant globe at SM Mall of Asia was stolen.

The "incident" went viral at around midnight as thousands wondered how the landmark to one of the world's largest malls could have gone missing.

Eventually, it became clear that it was all a publicity stunt for Netflix's new movie "Red Notice" that features Dwayne Johnson as an FBI agent getting the help of renowned art thief, played by Ryan Reynolds, in order to catch a more notorious criminal, played by Gal Gadot.

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Through a marketing-slash-advertising perspective, the ploy is impressive in various counts-- the hundreds of thousands of social media impressions and the media mileage may have been enough to get people watching on the streaming platform.

However, for Filipinos whose pandemic-distressed minds could only take so much more fake news, the joke, with all that hype, failed to land.

"We're fighting disinformation and here you are thinking that that kind of stunt is ok?" said journalist Rommel Lopez on Twitter.

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Where it went wrong

Danilo Arao, a journalism professor at UP Diliman, addressed in several tweets "dominant media gatekeepers" whom he reminded of their responsibility to hold the thin line between advertorials and actual news.

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The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines also reminded colleagues Tuesday "that advertisement and sponsored content should be clearly and prominently labeled as such," warning that doing otherwise could trigger unwanted public confusion at a time when Philippine media's trust score rating is still "alarming". 

While there was no mention of any news site in particular, among those who first reported was Rappler, whose placement of the hashtag #BrandRap in the caption was meant to be an indication that it was a sponsored content. Yet this detail was largely overlooked, especially for the majority unaware that BrandRap is marketing content, not news.  

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The result? "Public confusion leading to baseless accusations and misplaced anger", which for Arao is an indication of "gimmickry gone wrong". 

"The credibility of the press will not rise or fall on this marketing stunt, but it does make our job a little harder," NUJP said, noting that "in an environment filled with disinformation and misinformation, failure to clearly establish that a reported theft is a stunt puts the credibility of our newsrooms and of the profession in general at risk."

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NUJP said that "in a rush to report, other newsrooms not briefed on the marketing gimmick may fail to verify the item and inadvertently pass on false information as fact". 

"We may also be unwittingly giving bad actors more ammunition to use on journalists and on journalism," it added. Since 2016, journalists around the world, not just the Philippines, have been increasingly vilified, seen as an attempt of disinformation networks to pave the way for authoritarian leaderships to take over in traditionally democratic governments. 

Sponsored content "has long been a subject of debate" in the industry,  a reminder of the economic realities under which corporate media operates, NUJP said.

"The world of online and social media content is constantly changing but let us remember that 'the highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to service the public'. Getting our audience confused over a them that may or may not have happened to hype a show does not serve them well," it said.

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