Dora Dorado worked inside a makeshift studio in his home, making personal protective equipment (PPEs) hunched over a sewing machine. Before Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced the lockdown in Metro Manila in mid-March, he and his sister, a doctor, started a donation drive to gather funds to produce PPEs for undersupplied hospitals all over the Philippines. When they raised PHP800,000 ($16,500), he reached out to other tailors who were out of work, and together they deployed about 2,000 protective suits.
Two months later, exhausted from all the work, he turned on the TV, only to find more bad news. COVID-19 cases weren’t improving, and the government didn’t seem to communicate any progress.
“After all that work, all the help we were already able to do, we looked at the news, and it was still bad. I was so frustrated,” he told VICE.
Defeated, he set his phone down, opened TikTok, and began to rant on his account @6foot1crybaby (now renamed to @doracrybaby). His commentary was cognizant and funny, sandwiched in between two straddle jumps. Dorado, who stands 6 foot 1, is a dancer.
One week later, he made another post running through news headlines in the Philippines and calling out the glaring social injustices. He ended his bit with a heel stretch and a pirouette. This video garnered over 300,000 views.
Today, Dorado is part of a crop of rising influencers in the Philippines who shot to fame during the pandemic for their political exegesis, providing a venue for people to stay informed and essentially, laugh through the pain. Delivered on various social media sites, users like Dorado are gaining traction as conduits of information and custodians of social justice, leaving lifestyle influencers quiet on the sidelines in fear of sounding a little tone-deaf.
Other content creators with this newfound stardom include Mark Averilla, or Macoy Dubs, whose satire has garnered about 400,000 followers on TikTok grown only within the last six months. Making content was merely an outlet for him.
“I guess the switch to produce satirical content comes out of the frustration of what’s currently happening in the political atmosphere of the Philippines,” he said.
In the beginning, Averilla was only making dubbed parody videos, at most two posts a month. Today, he churns out content almost every day, filling his feed with situational bits about grumpy government employees, subtle callouts to the Philippine administration, and his character “Auntie Julie” — a caricature of an affluent middle-aged Filipino woman, a perceptive jab at class stereotypes.
These protest profiles on social media have become more vociferous in other parts of the world as well, making significant headway due to the recent pandemic. Recently launched and already with a growing following are accounts like South Asians 4 Black Lives, a space for people to explore their South Asian identity and dismantle anti-Blackness. Adding sweetness to the fight against petulant racial oppression is Bakers Against Racism. Acknowledging merging forms of injustice is Intersectional Environmentalist, an “inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet.”
Embodying the sentiment of the people and the times, it only makes sense that content of such nature is making noise. When the pandemic hit, travelling and parties were put to an end, leaving fashion and beauty influencers with little to talk about except the things they busied themselves with at home.
Tastes change, but the global crisis shoved social issues to relevance. Internet researcher Crystal Abidin posits in the book Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online that internet fame is co-dependent on its audience. It needs to be received and validated by a willing viewer, else the fame is unachievable. So if your audience is worrying about the state of the nation, watching an influencer overlook this reality may seem understandably disconcerting.
It's why Filipino-American vlogger Wil Dasovich was subject to backlash when he said during an interview: "I kind of have a golden rule. I try to limit and not talk about politics because you're always going to upset a huge group of people.” To address the issue, Dasovich explains on his vlog later that the quote was taken out of context. But he adds that he veers away from politics, “because that’s not the type of content that people come here for.” He also expresses openness to the call of the people, and understands that his platform can be used more actively to drive social change.
Fashion, beauty, and lifestyle influencer Camille Co, who has been a public figure since the early blogging days, isn’t uncomfortable about voicing out her political opinion, albeit she does admit that it affects her followers. When the pandemic hit, Co said she couldn’t bring herself to pretend that everything was business as usual. She told the brands she worked with that she would hold off from posting endorsements because of the crisis.
“I think [during the quarantine] was the first time I posted something political on my feed on Instagram, 'cause there was just no other content that was right for us to produce,” said Co, who is outspoken on Twitter and Instagram. "I think for you to remain relevant, you have to care about these political issues. Now, it’s so hard not to get political. All the big brands are part of these movements too. Because with all of these happening in the world, you're still selling products? I think it's the opposite — the more silent you are, the more you're getting affected because you don’t care. What do you care about?”
The emotional labor of content creation
But speaking up about politics on social media in the Philippines is an undertaking only for the brave — the work attracts a sizable amount of haters, many of whom are trolls. Averilla was tagged as a subversive in a Facebook post that claimed he was part of a terrorist group.
"Me? Part of a terrorist group,” he said startled. “I work full time. I'm an employee, working more than eight hours a day. I have no time."
Fearing the worst, this incident pushed him to join the Concerned Online Citizens group — about 20 other bloggers, writers, and activists from the Philippines who filed a petition at the Supreme Court against the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which many fear the government can use against its dissidents. Because of this experience, Averilla said he can understand why some influencers are hesitant to speak up.
“Some influencers are also protecting their interests. I guess for me that’s their decision, and we should respect that. Maybe they are just protecting their mental health, are afraid of getting bashed, or creating a divide in their following. And we should understand that because that’s their own battle.”
Co acknowledged that speaking up comes with a hefty target.
"I have experienced being attacked by trolls. If someone told me that they don't feel comfortable voicing out their political opinion because they're not ready for the trolls, I would understand that. Because it really affected me mentally and physically. I took it heavily."
Dorado shared, “I’ve been receiving a lot of hate mail, a lot of threats.” So much that when he goes out to the grocery, he tries to cover up. “Sometimes, I have a fear that I’m being watched. The fear is real. But that’s life. That’s what happens when you take a stand.”
As the crisis urged users to reassess and question the role of influencers, one thing for sure is that there is ample space for a new breed of social media personalities unafraid to voice out their opinion on current affairs.
"I think a lot of agencies and brands now appreciate content creators that think," shared Co, who admitted that the saturation point of influencer marketing may have reached its limit. The times will certainly force influencer cultures to change. The challenge is where established influencers will steer their content next.
For rising internet celebrities like Averilla and Dorado, this time only proved that there is a clarion call for more like them. Without a longing for curated beach photos or shopping hauls, people are hungry for sound opinion.