By Atty. Ira Paulo Pozon
On the brouhaha regarding Nas Daily and the Nas Academy, this is overdue. As of writing, this issue has already been widely discussed on social media for the past few days, and the main reason I put off writing is because it was necessary to sort through all the noise and try to ascertain the facts.
I will be focusing on the crisis management aspect and not the legal issues, as the legality has already been widely discussed and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) is currently investigating.
I am also not taking any side on this; this is an objective assessment on how the crisis is being managed. All data and statistics are as of writing.
The controversy began with an August 4th post by Grace Palacias, grandniece of national icon and indigenous tattoo artist Apo Whang-Od, calling the Whang Od Academy a scam, alleging that Whang-Od never signed any contract and did not understand what the translators were saying, and that people are seeking to profit on their culture.
The academy was supposed to be a masterclass by Whang-Od on the ancient Kalinga tattoo styles through the Nas Academy platform. According to the Nas Academy website, Whang-Od would discuss her journey to become the world’s oldest tattoo artist, her methods in traditional Kalinga tattoo making, and the cultural aspect of her tattooing, all for a fee of seven hundred fifty pesos.
Yikes what’s going on here? pic.twitter.com/XqHR35Yi2p— Tammy David (@tammydavid) August 4, 2021
Tammy David Twitter account
Nas Daily’s first response was a defensive and unapologetic one. In it, they explained that they are “champions of the Philippines” and “pitched her family the idea of creating Whang-Od Academy. Her and her family present both loved this idea, and have worked WITH US to build it, with Whang-Od teaching herself” [sic]. The accusatory posts are “online falsehoods”, they said.
The same post attached a 22-second video apparently proving that Whang-Od “signed” the contract with her thumbmark.
Statement from Nas Academy regarding Whang-Od Academy
Dear Philippines! There has been a post circulating online regarding our beloved Whang-Od Academy. The post claims that Whang-Od has no knowledge of the Academy and that this is a scam. As a company, we have been champions of the Philippines from Day 1, so this makes us very sad to hear. Let us set the record straight. We approached Whang-Od because just like you, we love her. We love her traditions, and are inspired by her. We wanted to share her culture for future generations to appreciate and respect the ancient Kalinga tradition of mambabatok. So we pitched her family the idea of creating Whang-Od Academy. Her and her family present both loved this idea, and have worked WITH US to build it, with Whang-Od teaching herself. As a matter of fact, Whang-Od’s trusted niece, Estella Palangdao, was present and translated the content of the contract prior to Whang-Od affixing her thumbprint, signifying her full consent to the project. This is the clearest evidence that it is not a scam and achieved the consent of her and her immediate family. Everybody was compensated for their time, and for every sale the Whang-Od Academy generates, most of it went directly to her and her family. We just provided the technology and the marketing. So naturally, when we saw the falsehoods circulating online, we were sad. The truth is often times not as simple as a “tweet”. And online falsehoods can be dangerous. Out of respect for her family, we temporarily took down Whang-Od Academy while we resolve any issues that have arisen from these falsehoods. 40% of Nas Academy is made up of Filipinos. So for us, this is personal. We care deeply about the Philippines and respect the many cultures and traditions that exist across the country. And we have all come together to make the world a better place. Thank you for supporting our mission!Posted by Nas Daily Tagalog on Wednesday, 4 August 2021
By August 5, Louise Mabulo, multi-awarded social entrepreneur and one of Forbes Asia’s 30 under 30 Honorees, posted her experience with Nas Daily and, in particular, with Nuseir Yassin in a Facebook post that has since garnered 377,000 reactions and 297,729 shares.
In it, Mabulo describes how, in 2019, she and her family welcomed the Yassin and the Nas Daily crew into their home, in the hope that they could showcase The Cacao Project, which Mabulo founded. She alleged that Yassin “mocked the local accent and language”, repeatedly stated that “farmers are so poor”, and that he only wanted content that would appeal to the Filipino viewers. She further asserted Yassin lambasted the hosts for wasting his time, had refused to eat the food prepared for him, and that the Nas Daily founder was “exploitative and fueling a neocolonialist narrative using our need for foreign validation.”
That got social media abuzz.
I’ve held my silence for 2 years, however in light of recent news, it’s high time I break it. In 2019, Nas Daily had...Posted by Louise De Guzman Mabulo on Thursday, 5 August 2021
That same day, Nas Daily responded through a post on Nas Daily Tagalog: “I have also kept my silence for 2 years…”, a jab at Mabulo who began her post in the same manner. This alone sparked emotions online with a number of people humorously posting photos with Yassin with the same text. Now while they did not say anything against the vlogger, these posts further sensationalized the issue, giving it more life.
Dear Nas, I have also kept my silence for 2 years… See MorePosted by Barangay FM 107.1 Bacolod on Sunday, 15 August 2021
In its response, Nas Daily again went on the offensive, accusing Mabulo of spreading falsehoods. Instead of addressing the allegations of Mabulo, they called The Cacao Project a sham. The claim that it “revolutionized the cacao industry in your [her] province” was simply untrue, Nas Daily asserted. The vloggers left, said that there was no usable story to the farm, and that what the media portrayed about it was false.
Nas Daily alleged that when they informed Mabulo that they would not be continuing the story, both parties ended things with civility, and that Yassin even “took nice pictures with your [Mabulo’s] family”.
What would have ended the controversy was upended when Nas Daily accused Mabulo and The Cacao Project of being “not as truthful as the media says it is” and that Mabulo “shares online falsehoods…with malicious intent.” Nas Daily’s response garnered 193,000 reactions, 81,000 comments, and 36,000 shares, significantly lower figures than the original post of Mabulo.
Dear Louise, I have also kept my silence for 2 years out of respect to you. But I can't let you share falsehoods on the...Posted by Nas Daily Tagalog on Thursday, 5 August 2021
On August 8, Nas Daily issued a statement that it has halted the operations of the beleaguered Nas Academy in the Philippines. This statement showed better crisis management: it was concise, well-crafted, and emphasized respect for the Filipino and its laws and culture. And that their intention was to help in the sharing of knowledge.
In the comments section, however, and there were 6,100 comments, one of the more interacted upon posts was from a “Winston Palma”, who claimed to be working with Nas Daily. He alleged that, during a meeting, “Nas is just laughing. It won’t affect our revenue anyways”. Nas Daily Tagalog denounced the person and his supposed employment at the Nas Academy as “OBVIOUSLY Fake News”.
Dear Philippines, We started Nas Academy because we think everybody should become a teacher. We wanted everyone...Posted by Nas Daily Tagalog on Sunday, 8 August 2021
Yassin and Nas Daily’s final response was a post containing a six-minute video with the text “It’s my turn to speak”. Within the video itself is prominently shown the text “Be Careful of Fake Posts”.
In it, Yassin described how he first came to the country, and how he fell in love with the Philippines and the Filipinos. He showed how he helped about 100 impoverished kids, raised tens of thousands of dollars for disaster relief, and visited besieged Marawi City.
He then talked about how he stumbled upon “a fake story in the Philippines – The Cacao Project”. He asserts that it is not a non-profit that helps farmers, but a “for profit that exploits farmers.”
He categorically denied Mabulo’s allegations – that he didn’t eat the food, insulted farmers, and made fun of their accents.
Veteran journalist Jessica Soho, who interviewed Yassin only a few weeks before the scandal, announced she is no longer pursuing a partnership with Nas Academy for a Jessica Soho course. That post garnered 30,000 likes, 1,700 thousand comments, and 2,100 shares.
In light of recent events, and after our team’s series of communications with Nas Academy, we decided and mutually...Posted by Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho (One at Heart, Jessica Soho) on Monday, 9 August 2021
Around the same time, Ms. Universe winner Catriona Gray, through Cornerstone Entertainment, issued a statement that she was likewise putting the Catriona Gray Academy on hold until “the issue of ‘Whang-Od’ has been fully resolved.”
On August 2, Catriona Gray late-posted a photo of the online launch of the Catriona Gray Academy. By August 8, a mere six days since the virtual launch, Cornerstone Entertainment released its official statement.
Pattern of Unproven Whataboutism
Rappler recently looked at the Twitter tirade in September 2020 between Yassin (then @nasdailyvideos) and Ahmed Eldin (@ASE). Eldin, another Forbes 30 Under 30 Honoree, has produced and hosted award-winning shows and documentaries including a 2012 Emmy nomination.
Eldin fired the first shot with a Tweet describing his experience meeting Yassin, describing the latter as “arrogant as he was manipulative & opportunistic in his impassioned defense of the [Israeli] occupation [of Palestine]…He repeatedly blamed the oppressed for their oppression.”
Without addressing any of the allegations of Eldin, Yassin merely replied “your re-telling of the events is so fake news it’s not even surprising”. He further called Eldin one of the “worst, most state-run propaganda Journalists”.
Eldin has 82,500 Twitter followers, more than double those of Yassin (now under @NasDaily).
Yassin’s response was very Trump-esque in his use of whataboutism, a rhetorical device utilized to deflect attention by bringing up another matter about the other party. (For instance, when former US President Trump asked why he didn’t condemn the alt-right in Charlottesville, where one neo-Nazi drove his car into rallyists, he pointed the finger at the clearly enraged victims. He said “what about the alt-left that came charging at the alt-right…swinging clubs?”)
The difficulty with Yassin’s use of whataboutism is that he alleges without proof. He did so with Mabulo, advising her to not spread “online falsehoods”; he did so with Eldin, and, most significantly, in the six-minute video.
Strike One – Going on the offensive and being unapologetic.
Most lawyers would advise clients in crisis never to issue apologies as this could be construed as an admission of liability or of the accusations hurled against them. As both a lawyer and crisis manager, I normally recommend that an apology be made without admitting guilt or sounding negligent.
Throughout the many statements of Nas Daily, from the initial response to Palacias on Whang-Od, to a reply to The Cacao Project, to the “It’s My Time to Speak” six-minuter, there is not a single apology or a semblance of regret.
You may ask why an apology should be made at all. After all, there is no proof behind the accusations, none for cultural appropriation or exploitation. But this is not a court of law. This is a public crisis in the court of public opinion, and coming off as unapologetic can rub people the wrong way.
In any event, at the outset, I would have issued a sincere apology for any confusion that may have arisen, and that I am willing to participate in any investigation by the NCIP, to comply with any regulations, and most importantly, to ensure that negotiations and discussions with Whang-Od and her tribe are clear and that both parties come to an understanding free from any confusion.
Strike Two – Deflecting Instead of Addressing the Issues.
“40% of Nas Academy is made up of Filipinos”. “Online falsehoods”. “Fake news”. These are only some of the facts contained in the statements that have no direct connection to the issues or allegations.
When Yassin is attacked, he responds very Trump-like: everything contrary to his opinions is fake news. A good crisis communicator would have addressed the issues head-on by tackling the allegations themselves and responding with evidence, which he started to do so in response to Mabulo and The Cacao Project, but he ended by accusing Mabulo of spreading online falsehoods.
Throughout all the statements and videos, there was still no detailed rebuttal from Yassin or Nas Daily.
Strike Three – Where’s the Proof?
In many of the responses, Nas Daily stated a number of allegations to defend its actions. A key question is, where is the proof?
After all, this is a content maker and vlogger, presumably always with a camera switched on to capture whatever may occur.
Nas Daily stated that when they pitched the potential tattooing masterclass with Whang-Od and her family, both the family and Whang-Od herself loved the idea. Yet, the only released video is a 22-second one of Whang-Od being taught where to place her thumbmark on what we can only assume is the Whang-Od Academy contract. An image that would have likely helped the issue die down is a video of Whang-Od laughing, smiling, truly excited to do the project.
On Mabulo and The Cacao Project, the Nas Daily statement would have come off better with the “nice pictures” of Yassin and the Mabulo family that they mentioned in the statement. It would, of course, helped their case if they showed how The Cacao Project was “not a non-profit helping farmers” but a “for-profit exploiting farmers”.
Strike Four – One Face, One Brand
Laudably, Yassin is the founder, CEO, Board Member, and the face of Nas Daily. He famously made one video per day for 1,000 days, gaining global popularity as a result. He also was able to build the Nas Daily brand into a corporation that received approximately US$ 11 million as Series A funding.
If one is to look into the various allegations hurled against Nas Daily and Nas Academy, one would see that the majority of those claims are against Yassin himself – his attitude, his statements, how he treats others, etc.
Yassin has to be able to separate personal from business, separate himself from the brand. He can always continue to lead the company, be the face of the organization in all the videos, but has to act accordingly. He cannot allow personal attacks against him to affect the business, and, likewise, his opinions on controversial matters such as the Israeli occupation of Palestine must not affect the reputation of Nas Daily.
Why the Philippines Matters
Consider the speed by which this whole incident has affected Yassin, Nas Daily, and the Nas Academy. In a matter of days, the issue exploded on Philippine social media, and mainstream media picked up on the story. The entire Nas Academy is on hold in the Philippines, Nas Daily’s Facebook page lost hundreds of thousands of followers, and key personalities including Miss Universe Catriona Gray and veteran journalist Jessica Soho backed out from holding their masterclasses.
An online Change.Org petition was filed seeking support to declare Yassin persona non grata in the Philippines. In a week’s time the petition was signed by 19,293 supporters, including those from Indonesia and Malaysia, from people who have indicated their dislike of the vlogger.
As of writing, the number of followers of the Nas Daily Facebook Page has dropped by 670,000 followers -- from 20,992 million to 20,297 million.
A January 2021 Statista report showed that 76 million social media users are in the Philippines, with 72 million users on Facebook, resulting in a massive 92.7% Facebook market share in Philippine social media. Another report showed in terms of Facebook users, the Philippines is the sixth largest country globally, and second highest in Asia.
Ironically, in a mid-July interview Jessica Soho, Nas emphasized that for a country to change, the people have to raise their voices. He said “I think you should get angry to fix things. There’s a lot of things that need to be fixed, so be more angry. Just screams and —scream and unite.”
Apparently, they did just that.
The author is Founder of Caucus, Inc., a multi-industry, multi-disciplinary management consultancy firm. He graduated MBA (De La Salle University), Juris Doctor (Far Eastern University), and Masters of Law in International Commercial Law (Honours, University of Nottingham, United Kingdom). He also studied Mandarin Chinese Language and Culture in Fuzhou, China, was a Chevening-HSBC UK Government Scholar, a Confucius Institute Scholar, an alumnus of the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, a Fellow of the Asia Global Institute - University of Hong Kong, and Senior Fellow of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy – National University of Singapore. The author may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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