Netizens are calling the minor controversy the “Spaghetti Scandal.” Photo by Mae Mu from Unsplash
Food & Drink Features

Opinion: The case of the entitled food influencer, and why ‘collab’ can be a dirty word

Social media feasted over an influencer who has apparently been lying and leveraging on industry friendship in the name of content. BY JACS T. SAMPAYAN
ANCX | Jun 01 2020

Even if we try to deny it, words and their meanings have always been dynamic. Words are subject to the whims of those who wield them—given that you get enough people to incessantly use it the same way as you do. That’s how tragedies like “literally” become not so literal, and simple sound terms like “ping” turn into buzzwords you didn’t know you hated.

Speaking of buzzwords, several are uttered in a recent brouhaha that blew up among local food bloggers and influencers. (Ping!) In separate Facebook posts, a handful of its prominent figures have not-so-subtly alluded to a rogue member of their colorful community. Apparently, the said influencer, who is repeatedly referred to as “PG” (wink, wink) in the increasingly frenetic comments sections, was approached by a brand who offered him one pan of their spaghetti as a “collab” (Ping!) The influencer responded by asking for not one, not two, not even five, but seven pans of spaghetti instead. As the story goes, PG posts about the brand’s spaghetti on his account, but goes on to bash said dish and brand in a group chat.

Screen shots of this group chat now circulate online, and have caused a social media shite storm, the epicenter of which is a Facebook post by a lifestyle blogger. The post has drawn a lot of attention—it has since been shared more than 4,000 times—and consequently encouraged those with stories about the influencer to add to the “testimonies.” 

According to this blogger, the aforementioned group chat was apparently where PG teaches newbie bloggers how to wrangle more free food from brands and restaurants using pa-cute tactics and lies: “Tell them it’s your, or your fiancée’s birthday!” “Tell them you miss them in your IG stories!” Or, as was used in the Spaghetti Scandal, “Say you want to feed the frontliner guards at your building!”

Cheesus. H. Crust.

Going through the posts, it appears that PG has been doing this modus with brands, restaurants, and sellers great and small for years. A lot of the food he asks for actually goes to the newbie bloggers in the group chat. (Apparently, the influencer did not start the group chat, but he oftentimes looms large in it.) In exchange, these, let’s just say, beneficiaries give their loyalty; they like and comment PG's posts (something along the lines of “I will definitely buy this because you recommended it”) which of course strengthen his image as an influencer. The brands buy into this and the vicious, ridiculous cycle continues ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Content partnerships like these have been around for a long time, even before the rise of digital communication. By definition, collaboration, or “the act of working with someone to produce or create something,” is a positive undertaking.  

Unfortunately, while there are well-meaning creators, there are those who sully the act and make people doubt the intention of the very word itself by abusing it. For every cringe-worthy story of a demanding, self-important blogger, there have also been the unending chismis of diva newspaper editors and brazen columnists in the glory days of print who go up to hotels and brands with the assumption that they don’t have to pay for anything. Believe us, we’ve heard a lot of these stories.

In regular ANCX contributor Frances Sales’ piece about the rise of influencers in the 2010s, she quotes digital marketing industry veteran Trixie Esguerra, pointing out that during blogging’s first wave, content creation did not equal transaction. According to Esguerra, bloggers like Cecile Van Straten. Noemi Dado, and even Sales herself “were writing because they really wanted to write, they were paying for everything they were writing about.”

In that same article, Sales recommends several areas of focus for today’s influencers on how they can look to the future. These include authenticity, encouraging real engagement, community nurturing, and being worth the money they are eventually paid—all of which could describe what a good blogger should be like, and how those in PG’s situation can start moving past controversy.

While genuinely co-beneficial agreements and ethical practices exist, the line that you cross from content partner to gaming the system has always been there and could clearly be seen. The two parties have to be on the same page, no one’s hand is forced, and the fact that it is a transactional partnership should be apparent to everyone so that both parties’ individual credibility will remain intact. No one should cross that line—and not only because the internet ensures “resibo,” karma is digital, and push-button justice is tirelessly vindictive. But also because not crossing that line is the right thing to do, and smug-faced entitlement shouldn’t be anyone’s lifelong aspiration.  

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And lest the troublingly callous people at the back of the room have forgotten, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic, in which there’s a virus that has not only claimed lives but left many families and businesses barely fed, barely safe, or barely keeping it together. The local dining scene as well as the independent home chefs and bakers have been very hard hit. Many of these business owners are trying very hard to be resilient and resourceful, staying agile to keep afloat not only for themselves but for their staff and the families that depend on them.

For influencers to make such entitled demands to businesses—and even use the current situation to commit what is tantamount to emotional blackmail (“I’m feeding frontliners!”)—not only leaves a disgusting taste in the mouth, it makes people question your humanity and compassion. As the lifestyle blogger capslock-suggests in her post about this particularly low tactic, “If you want to feed them, or help these businesses in this pandemic, USE YOUR OWN DAMN MONEY!”

To business owners, the blogger recommends looking to where the reviews that matter really come from. “Your legit ‘influencers’ are your family, friends, and real customers. Forget those that slide into your DMs asking for collabs,” she writes.

Influencer. (Ping!) While the word is neither good nor bad, we’d like to think the act of influencing should start being less self-serving and, especially in these dark days, be more about lifting each other up. That’s a definition we could all get behind.