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Media watchdog says Christopher Lao a victim of 'social media excess'

Christopher Lao, the driver battered by insults from netizens after being seen on television driving his car through a flood, is a victim of “social media excess," a media watchdog said Friday. "What happened to Lao is an issue of social media excess more than it is of journalism ethics," the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said in a statement. The CMFR issued the statement three days after GMA News showed a video of Lao driving through a flooded portion of Mother Ignacia Street in Quezon City after which his car stalled and started drifting. The video went viral on social networking sites and made him the 8th most discussed Twitter topic worldwide at some point. Nationwide, there was a time he became the 2nd trending topic on Twitter. A story about former UP Law dean Marvic Leonen defending him was this site's top story in page views on Thursday, garnering even more traffic than reports about Senator Miguel Zubiri's resignation this week. 'A clear abuse of social media' The use of rude and insulting words to describe Lao and the incident is “a clear abuse of social media," the CMFR said, noting that GMA News had to remove the video from its website as a result. While citing points for improvement, the media watchdog also saw merits in the television report. “Given the conventions of news values, the incident was newsworthy for its oddity and for its being an indication of how bad the flood was," the CMFR said. However, it added, “GMA News could have handled it better as the report should have provided larger context regarding the dangers of driving during heavy rains rather than focusing on Lao’s experience." “But who really knows if the intention of the reporter was to ridicule the person? GMA News could not have known that the report would elicit such an over the top public reaction," the CMFR said. The group added that the incident involving Lao “confirms the need for a more educated public on the use of social media." “This platform provides for a richer exchange not possible on the mainstream media," the CMFR explained. “But like all channels of communication, the impact is determined by the quality of the users and providers." GMA News has also issued an official statement urging the public to stop insulting Lao, already a victim of the flood and a lack of warnings. The statement was aired on GMA News’ primetime newscast “24 Oras." GMA News also pointed out that the report was intended to show the public the hazards of driving through flooded streets.
For the latest Philippine news stories and videos, visit GMANews.TV With insults against Lao snowballing, a former Law dean of the University of the Philippines has come to his defense, saying Lao does not deserve the treatment he was getting on Facebook and Twitter. “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," former UP Law dean Marvic Leonen said Wednesday. Cyber harassment Cyber harassment, which Lao experienced, might just be as harmful as a physical assault, the Philippine National Police (PNP) reminded the public last year. "Some of the victims of cyber harassment, who are unable to handle it, either retaliate violently or in extreme situations commit suicide due to severe humiliation," the PNP Information Technology Management Service said in a guide posted on its website. The PNP defines cyber harassment as immoral behavior by a person or a group using mobile or Internet technology to send disturbing messages to bother, humiliate, threaten, or stalk someone else. While endorsing the use of social media in an age of “vast cultural transformation," Pope Benedict XVI has also warned Internet users of its dangers. "When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals. It follows that there exists a Christian way of being present in the digital world: this takes the form of a communication which is honest and open, responsible and respectful of others," the Pope said earlier this year. — Paterno Esmaquel II/VS/HS, GMA News