Barrio Fiesta fashion blog causes outrage

by Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Jul 05 2012 11:22 AM | Updated as of Jul 07 2012 12:06 AM

LONDON - A fashion blog started by an anonymous writer has caused outrage on a social networking site after making derogatory comments about members of the public from the biggest Filipino festival in the UK.

A day after the London Barrio Fiesta in Hounslow, several Filipinos in Britain were horrified by a Facebook page that posted pixelated photos of people from the festival, along with comments from an anonymous writer critiquing their clothes.

The self-proclaimed fashion blog, called Barrio Fiesta Fashion Police, claims to provide honest opinions about the clothes sported by the general public at the Filipino festival in Lampton Park in west London.

Fashion police Facebook page

The anonymous blogger posted images of individuals and groups, mostly taken from personal profiles in Facebook, blurring the faces and rating the fashion on display by providing “verdicts” and critical analyses of the clothes.

Cyber bullying?

Hundreds of people have since seen the blog which caused mixed but passionate reactions. An overwhelming majority, however, expressed dismay on the nature of the blog, considered by many as “bullying”. Others were personally offended by the insulting diatribes aimed at unsuspecting subjects in the photographs.

Malcolm Conlan, an Englishman married to a Filipina and an active member of the community, was one of the first people to speak out publicly against the blog, after several complaints from his friends on Facebook.

“This was very upsetting for some people and I believe was totally uncalled for. The Barrio Fiesta is an event for all regardless of their beliefs, race or what they happen to be wearing. A great deal of hard work goes into the planning of the fiesta over many months by both the Philippine Centre and ABS-CBN Europe, so that those who attend have a wonderful time, so to hear that some fiesta goers have been upset by this matter is of great concern and personal upset,” he told ABS-CBN Europe.

“The comments come across as bitchy and not at all constructive criticism. Things like 'would you look at that belly' are not very nice to say the least nor is it of 'fashion' relevance. If that were me, I'd be mortified,” added Audrey Horca, a UK-based make-up artist and co-owner of the HMRM boutique in Manila.

Eliza Bautista, an occupational therapist, also said: “Although I am all for expressing an opinion, this is just gratuitous. I can hardly believe that someone has all this time and energy to put into something like this that does not achieve anything. Also, I am sure that the people in the photographs were not aware of this, which I think is out of order. People should have an informed choice, albeit their faces were pixelated. People also should be left alone to dress the way they want to when they want to. Honestly, I could live with fashion disasters, but the world could do without trashy, self-proclaimed fashion police and journo wannabes.”

Witch hunt

“My first impression was that it was tongue-in-cheek meant to be funny by poking fun at people and their clothes. The problem is this type of writing goes against Filipino sensibilities and humor. Readers just did not see the funny side of fiesta goers being insulted because of what they were wearing,” observed Peps Villanueva, a digital radio personality and a pioneering member of the Filipino community in the UK.

He added: “The people behind the FB page chose to be anonymous and, as a result, a lot of finger pointing resulted. People who did not have anything to do with it were accused of writing the critiques. I feel for those who were harassed by readers because they thought them responsible.”

The blog sparked an online ‘witch hunt’ as angry Filipinos attempted to identity the culprit, pointing fingers at potential suspects and lodging insults towards each other.

One of the people harassed by the public as a result of the blog was Jojo Almojuela, an aspiring fashion stylist and designer, whose recognizable photo appeared in the blog with a glowing assessment of his fashion sense, causing suspicions that quickly turned into threats and verbal abuse.

“I have been a victim of cyber-bullying without being given a chance to prove my innocence. My character was assassinated and many people offended by that page defamed my character. It was unfair on my part that I was being targeted by everyone and have become public enemy No. 1 in a matter of hours after the page was created,” he explained, insisting that he is not involved with the controversial blog.

He also pleaded: “I am innocent. To everyone who thinks it was me and had judged me, cursed me, and bullied me, I am merely a victim of someone’s desire for attention. I am only human and the words that had been circulated about me and the insults that had been targeted towards me hurt so badly. I hope that the person who started this will be brave enough to face the circumstances of his/her actions, not to be punished but to be taught a lesson.”

Despite strong opposition, however, some readers appear to support the fashion page, including London-based Filipino Tom Mein, who referred to the blogger as “an inspiration,” alongside nearly 200 people who officially ‘Liked’ the blog at the time of publication.

“Everyone can give their opinion and criticize like the Fashion Police. People just get upset because the comments about them are negative, but if it was positive they’ll be happy about it. This happens to celebrities all the time, so what’s the difference with regular people? The Fashion Police is not judgmental, it’s more like constructive criticism,” said Mein.

The Fashion Police format was popularized by a show from the E! channel, hosted by comedian Joan Rivers, which provides amusing comments on the style choices of celebrities attending public events like film premieres and awards ceremonies.

The copycat Facebook page, however, targeted the unwitting Filipino public, and was temporarily shut down by the author following strong complaints. It has since returned with a defiant attitude.

In a statement posted by its creator soon after relaunching the site, the blogger appeared remorseless and refused to apologize for his actions, claiming his intentions were “never to harm”.

“I am a lover of fashion. I like seeing people look their best. And if they don’t, I would gladly tell them my honest opinion about it and that’s just being me. My intention was never to harm. I was not ‘hostile’ in my use of language. Never did I use words to attack a person's physique nor did I want to hurt anyone mentally and emotionally.”

It continued: “None of my comments were intended to provoke offense. I was simply stating what I truly thought about their fashion, not their personal style or their individuality. I did not create the page in order to criticize or destroy anyone's personal character. I simply wanted to analyze the way in which they have put an outfit together, and whether it worked for them or not. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I exist. My opinions exist. And I decided to express my opinions in this way. The cheeky remarks I made on that page obviously came across as rude to some people. I am not going to apologize because of my honesty as it defeats the whole purpose of my page.”

The blogger refused to comment for this article, but told ABS-CBN Europe that previous posts will now become private and no further posts will be made in the foreseeable future.

The debate continues in Facebook.