Few controversial people kept social media buzzing in Jan 2014. Who are they? How did they get Singaporeans talking? e27 takes a closer look
It wasn’t until a few days ago when it hit me. Singapore’s social media scene is getting a lot noisier by the day. People are becoming bolder in discussing views, fact-checking and making sure a certain sort of justice is being observed online. Social media users who post racist or religiously derisive remarks on major networks are often apprehended by trusty neighbourhood online vigilantes. The sort of enthusiasm the vocal majority of the online crowd in Singapore has when it comes to long, elaborate witch-hunts is simply applaudable.
But if you, unlike me, have the opportunity to escape from social media tirades, this might all be news. Here’s a quick recap of what went viral in Singapore this month.
1. Heather Chua
While posing as a 41-year-old Singaporean woman with a false alias (Heather Chua), a 22-year-old man made several offensive remarks about various racial groups and different social classes online. In addition, he was alleged to have solicited photographs from females under his guise as a modelling agent.
The comments eventually got on the radar of parody account, SMRT Ltd (Feedback), which crowdsourced information to drill down the Facebook account owner’s true identity. At time of writing, SMRT Ltd (Feedback) had over 65,000 likes on Facebook, and 13,900 followers on Twitter.
If you don’t believe in the power of crowdsourced investigation (CSI) a la social media, check this out. The following post garnered some 665 likes, 97 shares and 87 comments.
A quick search for the hashtag ‘#heatherchua’ also reveals a similar online brouhaha on Twitter.
One thing led to another, and the said man is now under investigation for making racist remarks.
It is noteworthy that under the Sedition Act in Chapter 290 of the Statutes in Singapore, anyone attempting to “promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore” can be charged and brought to court. The same law has been extended to the online space in 2005 when two men wrote racist comments about ethnic Malays on the Internet.
2. Stephanie Koh
In an interview with Razor TV, the 21-year-old K-pop Star Hunt 3 finalist Stephanie Koh said that she isn’t proud to be a Singaporean. She then clarified her case in a separate video hosted on her YouTube account, which seemed to draw mixed reactions from netizens, both in the country and overseas.
Here’s a quick peek at comments on her YouTube video, which, at time of writing, has garnered more than a million views.
She also provoked reactions from multiple blogs and video responses, which include 987 FM radio deejays Dee Kosh and Divian Nair’s discussion about why Singaporeans are agreeing with the original poster.
3. Anton Casey
On January 20, he posted a photo of his son with a debatably mocking caption, “Daddy, where is your car & who are all these poor people?” A few hours later, Anton Casey, a wealth manager with CrossInvest (Asia), uploaded another image with yet another seemingly offensive remark on Facebook. He wrote, “Ahhhhhhhh reunited with my baby. Normal service can resume, once I have washed the stench of public transport off me FFS.”
Soon, no thanks to the notorious parody account SMRT Ltd (Feedback), personal details were leaked out, including Casey’s home address, place of work and mobile phone numbers.
The very next day, the Briton expatriate swiftly apologised through a public relations firm. His apology was seen as an insincere move, which saw even more online vitriol being generated. Finally, on January 24, after various personalities and politicians jumped on the bandwagon with their views, Casey left with his wife and son for Perth (on economy class, no less).
Later, Casey was said to have “parted ways” with then-employer CrossInvest (Asia). The announcement, published on the firm’s Facebook page, noted that it was a “mutual decision”. The saga, however, did not end right there.
Scoot, a local budget carrier subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, took it upon themselves to come up with a promotional campaign featuring Casey and his family. It drew both flak for being insensitive and dragging Casey’s family members into the picture, and praise for its attempt at being humorous.
4. An unnamed Spectra Secondary School student
Clearly, a smartphone can prove to be a handy tool in the 21st century student’s life. Notes on the whiteboard can easily be photographed; scientific experiments can be recorded; and the device can even act as a remote control for presentations. But this wasn’t the case for a student in Spectra Secondary School who recorded his or her classmate throwing a tantrum and yelling at a teacher.
The original video hosted on YouTube showed an adolescent cowing his teacher into apologising for shouting at him. When asked to return to his seat, he questioned why he was yelled at, and started fiddling with a tablet computer on a desk.
A few days later, the same student was said to have apologised to the teacher in question. An article reported on local citizen journalism portal Stomp also managed to make its rounds on social media networks. Judging by the comments, it seems most readers are disapproving of the student’s attitude towards his teacher, and surprised the students get to use iPads during class.
Social media, as we know it, is a double-edged sword. Here are four things we can all learn from the four controversial figures, especially if you are managing a business page:
1. Gain empathy
This is an extremely arguable point, as empathy in itself is highly subjective. Judging from Anton Casey’s situation, it does make sense to think before posting. The truth can always be packaged in a less arrogant manner, which can still be seen as just a less offensive, honest opinion.
2. Get a second opinion
Sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to have content vetted by someone else to see if it is distasteful or rude. Even if you are a solo founder with no staffers, get a trusted friend to look at the campaign image or content before sending it out. When in doubt, ask.
3. Do not pose as someone else
Don’t use photographs of models or celebrities as your profile image. Don’t pick fights and get on the radar of influential groups.
4. Use controversy to boost your livelihood
As I learnt in Public Relations 101, all publicity is good publicity. In Stephanie Koh’s case, her YouTube videos churn advertising revenue. Thus, the more views it garners, the more money she actually earns. Anton Casey could have turned it around with a sincere face-to-face interview with TV and radio stations, which might have allowed him to remain in Singapore unscathed and gainfully employed.
Do you have any suggestions? Feel free to share it with us in the comments section below!