How KMJS Lost Its Shine With Viral ‘Otlum’ Episode
Manila/ Vibe/ Trends

What KMJS’ ‘Otlum’ Episode Reveals About the So-called ‘Clout Chasing Era’

Otlum KMJS Episode Photo by YouTube/Get Wrecked Show

A video of a man who took an unattended cellphone above the counter of a local canteen in Ermita, Manila, went viral last October. It was a criminal incident that saw an alleged thief alter the narrative of an entire story.

Peejay Dela Cruz, also known as "Otlum" (which means ghost or multo in Tagalog when spelled backwards), was caught stealing through a CCTV camera, but strongly disputed the act. Online users were quick to grill Otlum for his act of stealing, however, things changed when someone noticed he was wearing a Persons with Disability (PWD) identification card.

In an interview with GMA News on Oct. 31, Otlum denied the allegation and said he had not stolen anything. In his definition, stealing means entering an establishment and hastily breaking open and taking things that are in a private area. On the other hand, he justified the act by saying he took the phone from the outside. Despite the CCTV footage that captured his act, he seemed like an “innocent” person condemned to a crime and asserted that his conscience was clear.

The incident even prompted human rights advocate and veteran lawyer Chel Diokno to post an explainer video about theft and robbery.

“Basta’t kinuha at inangkin ang hindi talaga sa kanila, liable sila sa theft at puwedeng ikulong na ang tagal ay depende sa halaga ng ninakaw,” Diokno said.

[As long as they take and claim what is not really theirs, they are liable for theft and can be imprisoned for a period that depends on the value of what was stolen.]

According to Article 308 of the Revised Penal Code, “theft is committed by any person who, with intent to gain but without violence against, or intimidation of persons nor force upon things, shall take personal property of another without the latter’s consent.”

Following the viral incident, news magazine show “Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho” (KMJS)—known for jumping on viral stories in its weekend segment—featured Otlum, where he disclosed his condition of psychosocial disability. In defending himself, Otlum said he’s not insane; he only encounters mind confusions from time to time.

The segment also showed Joey Esquivel, owner of the stolen phone, apologizing to Otlum for posting the CCTV recording of the incident. This scene drew backlash from netizens, with some saying that the show entered the dangerous territory of justifying—and to some extent normalizing—theft.

There was a range of responses, some of which broached sensitive topics such as gaslighting, mental health problems, and clout chasing.

Gaslighting and Clout Chasing on Social Media

With the advent of the internet, the world changed, including ordinary users and popular personalities who can go from fame to shame in a matter of months or weeks because of the ephemeral nature of internet popularity. The next thing you know, you’re writing a public apology.

The fickle nature of internet fame has gotten more complex, rooted in adulation and desire for the limelight aka chasing clout. In an article published by GQ in 2017, “clout” is a colloquial term used to derogatorily characterize fame and influence. Those who are thirsty for these things were tagged as ”cloutchaser.”

In December 2019, The Atlantic published “Why Kids Online Are Chasing ‘Clout’,” which explained the prevalence of clout chasing among online users. On Instagram, the hashtag #clout has been used 1.8 million times, while TikTok used a similar hashtag for about 1.5 billion times, including other terms like #cloutchaser and #cloutcheck. Twitter, on the other hand, defines clout by the number of “retweets,” wherein users make cute photo and video edits for their idols as fan service as well as for personal gain.

People would then ride the wave of what is the latest – stupid pranks, NGL (not gonna lie) challenges, and news dissemination in pursuit of relevance.

When Otlum was featured in KMJS, social media users were alarmed at how thieves can change an entire narrative and twist facts to their advantage, referring to the show as a “clout chaser.”




Vetting Issues

In a democratic society like the Philippines, news stories are diverse and cover different perspectives. There are many trustworthy journalists and researchers across various platforms, including social media, citizen journalism, traditional print media organizations, and more. They tell narratives with the intention of encouraging audience members to think more critically in a way that does not distract from the main point of the story.

Stories obtained and featured in KMJS in the past years have certainly piqued the curiosity of its viewers. These stories covered educational topics about current events involving both Philippine and foreign cultures. It has been awarded and nominated across prestigious institutions, including the best magazine show, most development-oriented magazine program, students’ choice of magazine program, and most well-liked TV program, to name a few.

In an article published by the Manila Times on Oct. 18, it explained why KMJS stands out among others. It lauded the prominent host, Jessica Soho, as one who “redefined broadcast journalism.” The article also mentioned the creative team behind the show for producing episodes that did not sensationalize the subject matter.

But in recent years, the show’s content has changed. First, the show slightly veered away from its usual interesting socio-cultural stories like cuisine, lifestyle trends, and special events. They began launching episodes in which they would debunk horror stories, solve family affairs that would run for a series of episodes, and focus on different perspectives of viral TikTok content.

For more than a decade, the show has been dubbed the “Sunday viewing habit” for most Filipinos. It received an average of 19.4% people rating from the National Urban TV Audience Measurement, or equivalent to 9.4 million viewers on primetime, according to a report via GMA Network on Feb. 14. It has also amassed 27 million followers on Facebook and reached an online engagement of more than 164 million for 2021 alone.

According to a study released in 2021, “Clout Chasing for the Sake of Content Monetization: Gaming Algorithmic Architectures with Self-Moderation Strategies,” the controversy on social media included clout chasing and content monetization.

“Controversy entails the polarization of a social process into two opposing subgroups having conflicting and contrasting positions, goals, and views or a process whereby participants to an online discussion develop ‘arguments and conflicting views that lead them to offer different versions of the social and the natural world’, which can be evaluated by the amount of discussion it generates,” the study read.

In another study issued in 2018, titled “The Impact of Digital Platforms on News and Journalistic Content,” it discussed content quality indicators which are divided into core standards of practice, broader social functions, and core professional practice indicators.

Under the second category, it defined usefulness as the ability to “[provide] citizens with information they can use to make effective decisions that benefit their personal and civic lives.”

Due to the controversial episode featuring Otlum, most online users believed that KMJS did a poor job of vetting its content.

One user on Reddit commented on a post about observations made about KMJS in the post-COVID-19 era, saying that KMJS had turned into a "clout-chasing vlogger."

Another user commented that the show has become “nagpapapansin” (attention seeker), which is why they have been featuring viral stories despite its poor values.

Otlum KMJS Episode
Otlum KMJS Episode

Despite the proliferation of digital media platforms and innovative media products, traditional news media continue to uphold the standards of quality journalism. According to a report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism on June 15, Filipinos continue to use television as their primary medium for news consumption. This is despite the consistent growth of news on social media platforms, as organizations move correspondingly online.

Likewise, these vetting problems in the media are exacerbated by incorporating algorithmic components that optimize engagement and monetize content. This algorithm provides satisfying content with maximum shareability that is aligned with the nature of internet advertising.

This is when people started to “form opinions and make collective decisions as the civic and democratic role of media remains and the civic values of journalism look set to endure well into the future.”

Hence, to avoid further complicating the issue of quality vetting, it is important to ensure that traditional news media and journalism, as well as online commentary about current events and the "blogosphere," adhere to the highest journalistic standards of integrity and quality: accuracy and clarity; fairness and balance; privacy and avoidance of harm; and integrity and transparency.

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