March 27, 2017

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by Bertha Henson

A WHOLE thicket of rules and regulations now govern the news media, from the dinosaur-era Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and Class Licensing to registration of websites.

Then there are the unseen OB markers which shouldn’t be crossed even though your words don’t amount to anything criminal. Plus, there is the Sedition Act and the myriad clauses under the Penal Code which can land you in jail.

Now, we are awaiting proposed amendments to the Broadcasting Act, which is really two years late. The hope is that the promised consultation on the changes will materialise given that it will affect nearly everyone, both content producers and consumers.

So what is the Law ministry thinking about now since the Supreme Court has ruled that the Protection from Harassment Act doesn’t cover entities, and there’s some confusion over what should be done about “false statements”? In the aftermath of the judgment, its spokesman said that it will “study the judgment and consider what further steps it should take to correct the deliberate spreading of falsehoods”.

The Workers’ Party has jumped into the fray and got an answer from the G on whether it would amend POHA. Frankly, the G would have just needed to make clear that “victims” of harassment could include entities, for G agencies to be covered under POHA. That is, anyone and any group can claim to have been victims of “harassment”, which could be stalking or the butt of online jokes or the subject of an online CSI.

In any case, the ministry has said it has no intention of changing POHA.

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How now?

So if not the POHA, what then? And how has it come to pass that we need rules to curb fake news? In the past, a public admonition would be enough to knock people into the dust. Then there was the concept of right of reply. In 2012, the G came up with its Factually website to curb misinformation. Evidently, it’s not of much use.

A government agency might pursue the defamation route but according to lawyers, there is some confusion about whether this is allowed. There is the Derbyshire principle — a common law principle in Britain and other countries that bars a public body from suing a citizen for defamation so as not to discourage free speech. Is this applicable here? While public figures have sued for falsehoods which ruined their reputation, there is no record of G agencies having done so.

It might have escaped people’s notice, but the estate of the late Lee Kuan Yew tried to invoke the legislation against teenager Amos Yee in 2015 – but the charge was quietly dropped. Now, you can’t defame dead people. For a while, it does seem like the POHA could be an alternative defamation suit! Now we’re in for a more confrontational approach, thanks to the US presidential election and Brexit.

“The Government strongly believes that the scourge of false information must not be allowed to take hold in Singapore, lest it weakens our democratic society and institutions,” said the Law Ministry.

“At a time when false information can affect election results, contaminate public discussions and weaken democratic societies, it is important for the Government, as well as corporations and individuals, to be able to respond robustly to false statements that could poison public debate and mislead decision-making.”

“Everyone, including the Government, should be entitled to point out falsehoods which are published, and have the true facts brought to public attention.”

It’s odd that the G feels that it is being curbed from addressing falsehoods in some way. It has plenty of resources to put forward its point of view, but it is not content with that. It wants an acknowledgement that the purveyor of fake news was wrong, and to set it right.

On principle, it looks reasonable that everybody, big or small or company or G agency, should be entitled to equal protection under the law. Experts surveyed by TODAY seemed to think so.

 

Wider effect

But this is to under-estimate the deadening effect such a move will have on freedom of speech, which seems to be a very bad phrase in Singapore. There are other reasons a government doesn’t do or say things even if it thinks it is right to do so.

It could simply choose to sue for defamation, for example, but there is no tradition for this. Why? Because the impact on the wider society is far greater than the good it does? This is not to say that the G is without protection. It is immune to law suits under the Government Proceedings Act.

In terms of freedom of speech, the balance has always been tilted in the G’s favour. It has the most resources and the biggest reach.

So it didn’t win in the most recent case. Does this mean it needs another mechanism to get its way in the future? Will this hammer be applied to everyone who makes a wrong statement, or restricted to entities with a big enough reach?

If the latter, there are plenty of levers it can pull. If it encompasses everyone or anyone, the G would have to maintain an army of fact-checkers to stop false statements from going viral online. Of course, It could also say that it will only invoke the mechanism for egregious cases – and to trust that it will be used sparingly.

How ironic! The job of calling out people, including those in power, on lies and mistakes is usually the responsibility of news media. The checks are the readers and viewers – and those in the industry. There was – and still is – an editorial code of conduct in most news media to ensure transparency and accountability. To stop the G from playing policeman, it falls on the rest of us to do the job. Pointing out mistakes is an unpopular thing but it is far better than to have the G weigh in, whether with a heavy hand or a light touch.

The G would say that respectable news media have no need to fear, so long as they publish the facts.

 

The job of checking

Now, here’s the truth about facts:

Some facts can be checked easily; some aren’t easily verifiable especially with a deadline looming. Some are simply impossible to obtain such as when ministries claim not to keep records or use the word “sensitive”. Some can’t be reported because of the Official Secrets Act or Administration of Justice Act. Some facts might lead to public discontent, and there’s the OB marker to think of. Some facts might cause social unrest, and then you’ll have to be wary of running foul of the Sedition Act even though there was no intended malice. Some facts are withheld because newsmakers think that is the best way to kill a bad story. Some facts could be out-dated.

Any journalist will tell you that Singapore is not a place where facts are given out freely. Corporations and G agencies tend to be protective of their information, possibly because they think new information will somehow rebound on them. Better to keep silent than give more information which can become ammunition.

Mr Ho Kwon Ping said this at a forum recently: “Access to information enables the public to robustly debate and articulate ground-up responses to the pressing societal issues of today. An information-rich society is all the more important since we’ve seen, in the recent US presidential elections, how social media can easily distort facts and even manufacture dis-information”.

So let’s re-write this phrase: “The Government strongly believes that the scourge of false information must not be allowed to take hold in Singapore, lest it weakens our democratic society and institutions”.

Let’s try this: “The Government strongly believes that more access to real information must be given to the people, so as to strengthen our democratic society and institutions”.

 

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Joshua Ip

AMOS, Amos why so famous?
Now the whole world come and blame us
New York poster boy for free speech
Human rights all come and preach preach

Insult PM Iron Lady
Go to jail enough already
Offend all diverse constituents
Regardless race or religion

Troll so many, kena summon
Little boy versus the gahmen
Goliath overcompensating
But David damn irritating!

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Delinquent on a new scale leh,
but irritant must throw in jail meh?
Obscene video? But who say so?
Who’s aroused? Just bloody kaypohs

Sentenced ready finished doneded
Still dunno whose feelings wounded
Must be forum uncle write crap
Can’t control, give you one tight slap

Try to teach you lesson, fail
End up ownself go to jail
Martyr conscience funny fella
Self compare Gandhi Mandela

Sent to Woodbridge super frightened
(Out already, go asylum?)
People come support protest you
Then you claim bailor molest you

Tell the press you will say sorry
Laugh at them from lavatory
One time arrest not sufficient
One more time insult religion

Go to jail this sounds familiar
Qualify as conscience prisoner
Give up freedom days a few less
Secret scheme to go to US

Anarchism communism
Any pattern suits your jism
Change your thoughts like change your deh kor
Wan to siam NS just say lor

Shee shee shor shor coca cola
Wan to caogeng then say so lah

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Morning call at 8.30!

ENOUGH already. Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam doesn’t want to be the next Prime Minister of Singapore.

Quashing talk of being the next PM, he told reporters yesterday (Sept 28): “Just to be absolutely clear, because I know of this talk that’s going around, I’m not the man for PM.”

“I say that categorically. It’s not me. I know myself, I know what I can do, and it’s not me,” he added.

A recent poll by Yahoo Singapore this week showed the Deputy Prime Minister to be the respondents’ top choice for the job.

Speaking of the man for the job, Singapore’s highest court has ruled that both men and women can be guilty of sexual penetration of minors.

The judgment follows a controversial ruling earlier this year, when a trial judge acquitted a transgender man charged under Section 376A of the Penal Code, saying that the choice of words in the statute applied only to male offenders.

Zunika Ahmad, 40, had been charged with sexually penetrating a 13-year-old with a dildo several times over almost two years.

In overturning the High Court ruling, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said yesterday that Section 376A was “gender neutral and capable of applying to a female offender”.

More news in court: The former tour guide, Yang Yin, will be sentenced today for the 120 charges he was convicted of in May this year. He’ll be back in court again tomorrow to be sentenced for his other charges related to criminal breach of trust.

Meanwhile, teenage blogger Amos Yee yesterday pleaded guilty to his charges related to wounding the feelings of Muslims and Christians. He’s also back in court today for sentencing.

There was lots of drama happening out of court yesterday too.

A heated argument between a man and his girlfriend resulted in a 17-hour stand-off between the man and police that started on Tuesday evening (Sept 27) and ended at noon yesterday.

The 39-year-old man had locked himself in a Sembawang flat with his girlfriend’s two-year-old son. Negotiations led nowhere and the police finally broke in through a corridor window.

The man, who was unarmed, has been arrested for wrongful confinement and drug-related offences. The boy’s mother was also arrested. The boy is now in the custody of the authorities.

Train services on the Bukit Panjang LRT line were temporarily halted twice yesterday as engineers carried out urgent inspections following a track fault that crippled 15 trains the night before.

According to The Straits Times, there have been at least six incidents with the 17-year-old Bukit Panjang line this year, and 10 major breakdowns that lasted over 30 minutes last year.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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POOR Mary Toh. After enduring all of her son’s shenanigans last year, the 49-year-old is back in court again to bail him out. This time, Amos Yee is facing eight new charges, including two which have nothing to do with what he said, but rather, for not showing up to the police station when ordered to do so.

The remaining six charges are related to making hurtful comments about Muslims and Christians on social media – nothing new for Yee there. He was convicted of similar charges last year, and since he was only 16 then, his mother Madam Toh has become somewhat a subject of controversy herself: Is she a responsible mom? How much of this is her fault?

Much like her son, she turned to social media to speak her mind: Here’s a letter she published via The Online Citizen, and a note on her Facebook page, titled “Sorry, Son”.

You have to wonder what she’s thinking, now that she’s going through the same thing all over again. In any case, no prizes for guessing what her son’s thinking – though, Yee said in court yesterday (May 26) that he would stop posting online and claim trial against the charges.

Even if he did continue to post, it doesn’t look like anyone’s really interested anymore. His latest post on Wednesday about the death penalty has garnered under 30,000 views, compared to more than a million on some of his older clips.

Oh, speaking of going viral, the Health Ministry is urging parents to get their children vaccinated against measles. So far this year, about 50 cases have been reported, which is three times as many over the same period last year.

Though not lethal for the most part, measles is highly contagious and it can be serious for young children. Untreated, it can result in pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and even death.

Now onto money – from today, you’ll be able to borrow more of it if you’re thinking of buying a car.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said yesterday that you can now borrow up to 70 per cent of a car’s purchase price for vehicles with an open market value of $20,000 or less. Previously, this cap was at 60 per cent.

Looking for a fancier car costing more than $20K? The loan cap has been raised from 50 per cent to 60 per cent.

You’ll also be able to repay your loans over seven years instead of five years.

Will this lead to more people buying cars? Maybe. Thing is, people have already been getting around the previous loan restrictions by either inflating the invoice of the car or entering into leases instead of hire-purchase deals.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof. 

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THE sluggish economy is this morning’s top news – and it’s beginning to sound like we’ve all heard it before. Here’s more news you’ve heard about, and their latest updates.

Food poisoning at Pek Kio Food Centre: After more than 180 cases of gastric flu were reported by people who ate there, cleaners and stall owners scrubbed down the food centre located near Owens Road yesterday (May 25).

Stall owners suspect rats and pigeons might have been responsible but experts said it was more likely due to poor individual hygiene which contaminated the food. Still, the Tanjong Pagar Town Council will be ramping up pest control operations. The food centre reopens tomorrow.

BSI Bank shutdown: Takeover plans are underway after the Swiss bank was told by the G to shut down due to multiple regulatory lapses, some linked to the 1MDB saga. Its assets will be bought over by rival Swiss bank EFG International or transferred to its parent bank, BSI SA.

The bank’s former wealth planner Yeo Jiawei, 33, will go back to court today to hear what the judge thinks about granting him bail. State prosecutors have been adamant that he be denied bail, fearing he would derail the case by tampering with witnesses.

The execution of Jabing Kho: The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) yesterday scolded Kho’s lawyers for their last-minute effort to save the 31-year-old Malaysian from the gallows, calling it “legal opportunism” and an “abuse of court processes”.

“This was a case where, after every legitimate avenue for legal challenge had been attempted and exhausted, legal opportunism prevailed.” – AGC

Weighing in also was the Home Affairs Ministry, who said Kho “was given every opportunity” to file appeals. Read our stories about what happened during the last 24 hours of the murderer’s life, and what our publisher Daniel thought about his execution.

Amos Yee is back: After an apparent short escape to Australia and less than a year since his jail stint, the controversial teen blogger with a potty mouth will be charged in court today. He faces eight charges, including five for hurting the feelings of Muslims and Christians. If convicted, he could go to jail for up to three years and be fined.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Joshua Ip

PERHAPS I’m too optimistic, or have succumbed to the wave of rose-tinted nostalgia that has suffused Singapore mass-hallucination-style in the last year.

See, I remember the Internet as a place where two people could settle their differences through the rites of honorable combat – a verbal duel on a Facebook wall. Once a gauntlet was thrown down, both parties engaged in the formal dance – the boundaries of the debate were clearly circumscribed, points were scored for art and skill, and the party who was provoked into ungentlemanly jabs below the belt – i.e. the ad hominem – was shamed into a concession. One could not argue with the facts of logic, and the results of the joust were clear for all to see – even if they had fought each other to a draw, the two parties could still invoke the ancient ritual of “agree to disagree” and walk away with their heads held high.

But as the reach of social media and the possibility to share and re-share grew beyond the ability of the average poster to foresee, the duels began to take on a bit more of a wild wild West flavor. New challengers began to arrive mid-bout, and many more refused to balk at playing dirty or changing the rules halfway. Duels devolved into multi-player slugfests spanning multiple threads, with grudges from weeks before being brought up again to mark a particularly unruly avatar. In essence, King of Fighters had become World of Warcraft.

Somewhere along the line, it became commonplace to see a young troll with a shock of wild hair prancing along, gleefully casting ‘Spell of Religiously Offensive Youtube Video’ and drawing a huge swarm of angry mobs in his wake. On the other side of the battlefield, you’d spot a glossily-armored ‘Paladin of Media Literacy’ swinging his ‘Hammer of Fox News Obnoxiousness’, eventually being swarmed by a horde of liberal barbarians. A mid-level orc attempts to ambush a noob with his ‘Apprentice Sim Lim Scammery’, and finds himself instead obliterated by ‘Giant Fireball of Pizza’ from a master-level ‘Feedback Wizard’. Or a savvy family of ‘Master Design Mage’s’ casting ‘Spell of Crying Child’ (+20% Public Outrage) to great success against the ponderous bureaucrats of the Gallery.

There are no longer any rules. There is no longer any consideration for scale, for significance, or for what we should occupy our time with. Minding one’s own business is a concept that has been relegated to the 20th century because everybody’s business is now everyone else’s business.

Instead of considered debate, we have a giant death ray of righteous outrage that leaves a blazing trail across the Internet every day. It can’t be turned off, and it needs to be fed – all that low-level irritation combined with a certain level of ennui at one’s boring existence has to go somewhere. Why not let the energy go into an angry comment about some horrible ang moh who beat up a taxi uncle? Or the next day, a furious share about some despicable taxi driver who tried to con a gullible tourist into turning off the meter? Does it matter if the two incidents are the same? As long as I’m part of the good guys, or the defenders of our nation’s pride, or the ones passing judgment from 30,000 feet based on a photo or a video clip?

We have built a Death Star, or if you prefer, a Starkiller Base. In doing so, we failed to realise that the beam of death can turn on anyone of us at any moment. There is no governing body, no court, or due process that controls who is incinerated. Just a sense of anger, raging like a consumed sun. Whether it is the Filipino worker in Tan Tock Seng or the Minister posting an ill-advised selfie, they can see their doom slowly approaching, just like the people of the Hosnian system watched the red glow of Starkiller Base’s attack searing its way towards them – each share, each like, each angry “wtf” spreads like a virus. You can take down the post or close your Twitter or get your PR department to submit a “we are looking into this” statement, but the ray still burns inexorably towards you and your good name.

How did we get here? Maybe Xiaxue, Queen of Blogs, crossed the line first. When she first reposted the unflattering personal pictures of men, who made offensive comments about her, and their families, half the internet cheered. A few wondered if she had set an uncomfortable precedent. Then notorious troll ‘SMRT(Ltd) Feedback’ doxxed Sim Lim scammer Jover Chew for cheating a poor Filipino of his money (Doxxing refers to the act of publishing private information about an individual on the Internet – in this case, his phone number, address, private photos, and the contact information of his girlfriend.) He was harassed by the Internet into closing his shop within days. From then on, the kid gloves were off. Any foreigner who made a comment about Singaporeans on his personal Facebook, or private WhatsApp group, or outside a pub, or basically anywhere that could be recorded, screenshotted, and shared – was at risk of having his employer contacted, his wife’s pictures dissected, his children screamed at in school, and having angry Singaporeans or confused pizza delivery boys appear outside his door.

Certainly, there is right and wrong. Every angry person on the Internet can tell you that. Right needs to be done, which chiefly means beating up people who are wrong. But there is far too much stupidity and idiocy in the world for even the Internet to police. If each one of us looks into our private moments or quiet conversations, I’m certain we can all extract something offensive or obnoxious enough to go viral. All of us are guilty of doing something stupid. The Death Star could happen to any one of us. And even if you are a saint who’s never said an offensive thing in your life, one only has so many hours in a day, in a month, a year, a lifetime – how many of those do you want to spend making some poor social media intern tear his hair out because he has made a poorly-thought-through post on the corporate page? Why should we activate the Death Star on someone’s stupidity when it can be sorted out with a quiet conversation (or Jedi mind trick)?

The Death Star floats through space, its planet-annihilating ray constantly blazing a path through the universe. This one has no convenient exhaust port or thermal oscillator to fire a proton torpedo down. The only way to shut it off, is, ironically, to shut up. Stop sharing. Stop commenting. Stop reacting, even. If you really feel the need to release your anger somehow (even though anger is the path to the dark side), draw your lightsaber. It’s called a private message. Go have it out with the person, one on one, the old way, the respectful way, the controlled way. The worst thing you could lose there is a bit of your pride. And we could all do with a bit less of that these days.

 

Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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Social media web with a composite of SMRT train, Tan Chuan Jin, Calvin Cheng, Orh Luak, Amos Yee, Mr Hanafie.

NOBODY can deny the power of social media – these days, just about anything can go viral on the Internet for the whole world to gawk at. From rants about immigration officers, netizens trolling ministers’ Facebook posts, to overly complicated PSLE questions that literally the world tried to solve – here are Singapore’s most viral moments for 2015.

On the MRT…

1. Sewing is sew dangerous

Claim to fame: A lady was cross-stitching on the MRT, and fellow commuter Tan Lay Hoon wrote a forum letter to ST on Nov 19, saying that this was dangerous. What if the needle impaled an eye or other body parts of a nearby commuter if the train jerked, she asked.

Controversy: Netizens poked fun of her letter and mimicked her writing style, coming up with various other “dangerous” scenarios on a moving MRT train, including: men swaying to music and “propelling forward” into other commuters; a laughing schoolgirl because she could “be propelled towards the commuter and sink her teeth into his neck, this may cause extreme bleeding and waste all that blood”.

Conclusion: Fellow netizen Tushar Ismail’s comment on men swaying to music on the MRT has since gained 2,000 likes. The public’s hilarious responses were also reported by the BBC, which said they had left Singaporeans “in stitches”.

 

2. Muslim woman gets shouted at by Caucasian male

Claim to fame: Ms Syazwani Jaffari tweeted that she was shouted at by a Caucasian male with anti-Islam comments on Nov 18 at Tanah Merah MRT. Her follow-up tweet said that nobody came forward to defend her – though, her first tweet was retweeted nearly 2,000 times with many Singaporeans expressing support for her and admonishing what the man did.

Controversy: This came at the back of the Paris ISIS attacks, with Muslims in the US facing increasing hostility in the form of vandalism to mosques and threats of violence. This was the first reported anti-Islam comment in Singapore at the time of the growing Islamophobia after the Paris attacks.

Conclusion: Ms Syazwani’s tweet has since then gained 1,879 retweets and 367 likes. She thanked the public for their outpouring of support, which included encouraging her to report the offender using CCTV footage.

 

3. PJ Wong – the airport “Know Your Rights” douchebag

Claim to fame: After being approached by immigration officer Eugene Ng after landing in Singapore on Oct 15, PJ Wong posted a note, titled Know Your Rights, on his Facebook. In it, he said that the officer was “being an ass” for picking him out of dozens of other people, and for detaining him without a reason. He called it “an abuse of power and an infringement of [his] rights”.

Controversy: Netizens pointed out that it was the immigration officer’s right to detain him. They added that had he been in another country, he could have been jailed.

Conclusion: In one day, Mr Wong’s Facebook post garnered over 5,000 shares. A Facebook page in support of Mr Ng, titled “Well done Officer Eugene Ng, keep it up” was also created. Both have since been deleted.

 

More bad behaviour…

1. Let’s kill the terrorists’… kids?

Claim to fame: Former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng shared his ideas about how to tackle ISIS on his blog on Nov 14, which included killing not only extremists, but also their children – “in case they grow up to take revenge”.

Controversy: His initial post attracted a lot of online criticism, and two police reports were filed against him for the statements. People were also incredulous because Mr Cheng is on the Media Literacy Council which is supposed to stand up against hate speech and promote responsible social media use.

Conclusion: Mr Cheng later clarified that he was actually referring to child soldiers – except, of course, that’s not what he wrote in his original post. He also apologised.

 

2. The most famous Amos 

Claim to fame: Famous Amos is known for its smells but this famous Amos caused a stink when the 17-year-old blogger uploaded a video he made about Singapore’s founding father titled “Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead!” earlier this year on March 27. Mr Lee died on March 23.

Controversy: In the video, he compared the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew to Jesus, and insulted both with hmm, shall we say, impolite language. Social media turned against him, and more than 30 police reports were filed against him for what was deemed as offensive and religiously insensitive statements.

Conclusion: Yee was convicted and sentenced to four weeks jail on July 6 for one count of making offensive or wounding remarks against Christianity, and one count of circulating obscene imagery. His conviction was backdated to June 2, which meant that he walked free. Yee was again in the news recently for mouthing off about Islam. Police tried to speak to him but soon after he supposedly got on a plane and left the country.

 

3. The world’s worst wedding guest

Claim to fame: Singapore blogger Juli Bun Bun posted bitchy unflattering live updates on her Dayre blog, commenting on everything that she disliked about a wedding – even though she was one of the guests.

Controversy: She criticised the couple’s wedding ceremony, the food, the bridal car, and apparently even implied that the bride wasn’t pretty (at least, not as pretty as she was). Well, she wasn’t looking that good when netizens slammed her as “the world’s worst wedding guest”.

Conclusion: She later took down her posts, saying she did not want her words to be taken out of context – except, her posts had already gone viral, and Little Miss No Manners’ incredible lack of etiquette (not to mention common sense) was reported in both local and foreign media.

 

4. Good dad, bad dad?

Claim to fame: After a young girl was apparently scolded by a hawker for using utensils from the stall without purchasing any food there, her father supposedly said to her: “It’s alright, I will cause trouble for this stall and tell NEA there were cockroaches in the stall.”

Controversy: After the daughter of the hawker stall owner described the encounter in a Facebook post on Dec 26, netizens rallied behind the hawker and criticised the father for being vindictive and setting a bad example for his daughter. She said she “really hates it when people look down on hawker workers”.

Conclusion: The post on Facebook was shared over 42,000 times and sparked an online debate about the parenting styles of Singaporeans.

 

5. Dog abuser caught on film – WARNING, graphic content!

Claim to fame: A 1-minute long video, uploaded to YouTube via Stomp, on Oct 31 showed a horrifying scene of a man using a leash to lift his dog up in the air by its neck.

Controversy: The video had about 45,000 views and widespread negative comments on the YouTube page, as well as ST’s posts on Facebook about the man’s sadistic behaviour across the Internet. Netizens called him “cruel”, “wicked”, “a monster”, and some even saying that the perpetrator should be “hanged to get a taste of his own medicine”, likening his act of choking his dog with a leash to hanging.

Conclusion: The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) took the dog into custody with the help of the police, and a police report was filed against the owner. A veterinarian doctor checked on the dog and confirmed that it was ok. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and SPCA said that they would work together to put a case against the dog owner. The outcome of this is still unknown.

 

A reprieve from all the bad behaviour… here were some moments that made us feel pretty good about ourselves. #faithinhumanityrestored

1. The MRT hero turned Manhunt hunk

Claim to fame: In July, Mr Muhamad Hanafie confronted a Caucasian man for threatening a teenager on the MRT. The altercation happened because the man apparently took offence with the teenager’s T-shirt, which said “I’m F–king Special”. Mr Hanafie intervened and stood up for the boy. His actions were filmed and shared online. Netizens started calling Mr Hanafie the MRT hero.

Compliments: Mr Hanafie just so happened to lose his job as a bellboy at a hotel, around the time that the clip went viral online. Fame, however, came again when Manhunt organisers tracked him down on Facebook and offered him a spot as a contestant this year.

Conclusion: Although Mr Hanafie did not win the Manhunt competition, he won the Most Courageous Award. Although he is currently unemployed, he has been cast for a yet-to-be-named drama on Mediacorp’s Suria channel that will be broadcast early next year.

 

2. Good samaritans saving man trapped under lorry

Claim to fame: A group of about 30 people came together to rescue a South Korean man, Kim Sung Mo, 35, who was trapped under a lorry at the junction of Boon Keng Road and Bendemeer Road. The samaritans’ heroic act was captured on a 1.5 minute video clip by Facebook user Suan Wang Foo on July 22, the day of the incident. The video went viral since it was uploaded on Facebook, receiving more than 300,000 views.

Compliments: Although the samaritans expected no reward, they were individually thanked and were presented with gifts. Seven of the people who helped free the victim were rewarded with a five-day trip to South Korea, and were hosted to lunch by the Korean Association in Singapore.

Conclusion: You don’t have to be in a costume to be a superhero.

 

3. Construction workers save toddler

Claim to fame: On April 23, a foreign worker and his friend climbed to the second floor of a HDB block at Jurong East Street 32 to save a toddler who had her head stuck between the rails of an external clothes drying rack. Two videos of the incident were uploaded to YouTube by blogger Alvin Lim on the day itself. The two videos combined have since then hit over four million views.

Compliments: Both workers were awarded the SCDF Public Spiritedness Awards for their quick thinking and brave effort in coming forth to save the toddler.

Conclusion: Foreign workers build homes and save babies.

 

4. Kind uncle advises foreign workers  

Claim to fame: On Aug 24, three foreign workers wanted to give up their seats for some Singaporean commuters, but was told by Mr Rimy Lau, 68, that they had the right to sit down as well. Reporter Melody Zaccheus, who happened to be in the same carriage, wrote a piece about the incident and also posted pictures she took of what happened on Facebook. The post had been shared more than 15,000 times by users and organisations such as the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). The ST Online story about the act also reached more than 800,000 users and has been shared about 30,000 times.

Compliments: One of the 53 comments left on Ms Zaccheus’s post, written by Ms Honey Lee, said that foreign workers make Singaporeans realise that they “are so much more human”. Ms Lee added: “Sometimes the poorer people are more human and affectionate than people who own big houses with 7 cars”.

Conclusion: Mr Lau was honoured by the Singapore Kindness Movement on Sept 3 with a certificate commending his gesture, and a figurine of Singa the Courtesy Lion. The news also hit local media channels like ST.

 

Education had a pretty good year on social media… if you believe there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

1. When is Cheryl’s birthday?

Claim to fame: “Cheryl’s birthday” was a mathematics question asked in the 2015 Singapore and Asian Schools Mathematics Olympiad in April 2015, which gave some oblique clues to candidates to deduce Cheryl’s birth date. The debate over Cheryl’s birthday reached major media outlets around the world – including, of course, local satire news programme, The Noose.

Controversy: TV presenter Kenneth Kong initially attributed the question to a test meant for 10 and 11-year-olds when it was actually in a secondary school Olympiad. Before the mix-up was clarified, netizens were up in arms over the difficulty of mathematics questions in Singapore examinations.

Conclusion: Spoiler alert. July 16. Nuff said.

 

2. The weight of a $1 coin

Claim to fame: This question appeared in the 2015 PSLE Mathematics paper, held on Oct 2 as a multiple-choice question. On the very same day, Facebook user Lee Xun Yi posted on the wall of the Ministry of Education’s Facebook account seeking clarification regarding that question.

Controversy: Many parents were upset at this question because they deemed it irrelevant to any PSLE-level mathematics skills.

Conclusion: The PSLE Mathematics syllabus showed that one of the objectives of the primary school curriculum for mathematics was the ability to perform estimations. And by the way, one $1 coin weighs 61g. We’ll leave you to, uh, do the maths.

 

3. Will or would?

Claim to fame: Parent and GE2015 hopeful Nadine Yap saw her daughter Zoe’s English homework, and was puzzled at why the teacher marked out mistakes when the sentences seemed to read fine. She posted the homework on her Facebook wall on Oct 6 to ask her friends what they thought.

Controversy: One of Ms Yap’s friends told her to change the post’s settings to ‘Public’ because that friend wanted to share that particular post. She did that on the very same day. It was all over the Chinese news within the day, and the English news the next day.

Conclusion: The teacher is always right. No, but really: In this case, the teacher was right. Even Ms Yap concluded that the teacher was an “attentive, caring and imaginative professional”, and apologised for the unwanted attention the incident had cast on the teacher.

 

4. The Shuqun bully

Claim to fame: A video of a bullying incident at Shuqun Secondary School brought a serious case to light. The victim, a 15-year-old boy, had been bullied by his classmate for five months. In the video, the bully is seen hitting the victim on his head and face repeatedly. Apparently the teacher was aware of the bullying.

Controversy: The 53-second video created a stir online, with most condemning the act and calling on both the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the school to take action. Since the clip was uploaded on Sept 21, it has been shared more than 12,000 times and viewed nearly 500,000 times.

Conclusion: MOE responded to mainstream media over the incident, stating that MOE “takes a serious view of bullying in schools and does not condone such behaviour”. The bully was transferred to another class and faced internal suspension. He had to apologise for his actions both verbally and in writing. The then-principal of Shuqun Secondary School, Mr Chia Hai Siang, was subsequently replaced by Mr N Sivarajan.

 

And last but not least, our favourite politicians whose efforts to engage citizens on social media perhaps might not have gone the way they intended… but gave us lots to talk about.

1. Tan Chuan-Jin and his cardboard comment

Claim to fame: In a Facebook post on July 12, newly-appointed Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin claimed that while some elderly people collect cardboard as a “main source of income”, others “treat it as a form of exercise and activity rather than being cooped up at home”.

Controversy: The response from some netizens was swift and unrelenting. Many accused him of “wayang””, or trying to justify the G’s anti-welfare stance. Mr Tan responded: “That’s what we should do, right? Find out about people? Hey, I’m trying!”

Conclusion: The Workers’ Party’s Daniel Goh, a sociologist, offered a nuanced take: The Minister wasn’t trying to “whitewash the poverty issue”, but he had accepted what his interviewees were saying “at face value”. What do cardboard collectors really think? We still don’t know. Maybe another minister would like to take a stab?

 

2. Teo Ser Luck and the foreign workers’ dormitory

Claim to fame: On Dec 11, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) uploaded photos of Minister of State Teo Ser Luck’s visit to a foreign workers’ dormitory, including one of Mr Teo lying on a dorm bed, with the caption: “Quite comfy! I learnt that some workers prefer to sleep without a mattress as they are used to it back in their home country. They find it more comfortable and cooler too!”

Controversy: While some praised Mr Teo for finding out first-hand how foreign workers lived, others were outraged. Foreign worker Ibrahim Khalil responded that workers in his dorm did not use mattresses, because it lacked proper ventilation. A few hours later, MOM shortened the caption, removing any reference to how “comfortable” dorm beds were.

Conclusion: In a statement, MOM said the quote was not from Mr Teo, but had been removed entirely “to avoid further misinterpretation”. For his part, Mr Teo promised to look into Mr Khalil’s complaint.

 

3. PM Lee’s Sudoku program

Claim to fame: On May 4, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong uploaded a screenshot of a Sudoku solver he had written several years ago in the C++ programming language. PM Lee obtained a diploma in computer science alongside his math degree from Cambridge University. The Facebook post went viral, attracting almost 50,000 likes and reaching an international audience.

Controversy: Not much, aside from experts calling the code “well-written”, and non-Singaporeans wishing their leaders were as cool.

Conclusion: A few days later, then-Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan translated the Sudoku solver into Javascript. Both Ministers used the hashtag #SmartNation, a geeky reference to the G’s multimillion-dollar initiative to use technology to improve lives.

 

4. Heavenly orh luak

Claim to fame: As the election season was heating up, Workers’ Party Chairman Sylvia Lim joined Instagram. Her first post on Aug 12 was of herself eating orh luak at Fengshan hawker centre, with the now-legendary caption “the taste of Fengshan – heavenly”, with the hashtag #reasonstowin.

Controversy: The post prompted speculation that Ms Lim would be fielded in the newly-formed Fengshan SMC. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was indignant: “Now we see [Sylvia Lim] saying that Fengshan SMC looks quite delicious. What’s going to happen? You’re going to swallow up Fengshan? For what purpose?” Asked about DPM Teo’s comments, Ms Lim responded: “It is a pity that DPM Teo did not have a sense of humour.”

Conclusion: Despite the political parrying, candidates on both sides lined up to eat the dish – except PAP Fengshan candidate Cheryl Chan, who pointed out that bak chor mee at Fengshan was more famous than orh luak. In an unexpected (and perhaps divine) appearance, orh luak later made it to the New York Times’ top 10 list of restaurant dishes.

 

Written by Gillian Lim, Clarabelle Gerard, Joshua Lim, Rohini Samtani and Yoong Ren Yan.

 

Featured image by Ernest Goh.

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A viral definition for 2015

by Bertha Henson

I have always wondered when something is deemed to have gone “viral”. Does it mean it’s been shared at least 1,000 times? Or getting 1,000 likes? Or is it when 10 disparate people in a room say they’ve seen it somewhere, probably on their Facebook feed?

There were many viral moments in 2015 although I wouldn’t think most of the content would count as “news”. Is news simply a rant or invective that is colourfully put? Or when someone/anyone says or does something that annoys us? Is the “news” the fact that it has gone viral?

It is a nagging problem we are facing at The Middle Ground (TMG) because some of us don’t think such social media posts need to be circulated and amplified. That is, it doesn’t qualify as news. People behave badly all the time, it’s just that the Internet puts their behaviour on the net. So what’s new?

Except that such posts get eyeballs… which we also want!

I’m afraid I’m too old-fashioned to understand the term “citizen journalism”. Most times, I think we’re really talking about eye-witness accounts – which are nice to have but, and this is important, without context. So take a picture of a quarrelling couple, for example. They are going hammer and tongs at each other. Bad words. Fisticuffs. There will be outrage – as well as plenty of opinion. If it was a video with plenty of action, it could go viral. You wouldn’t know anything about what provoked the act. All you have is the “act” itself – which of course is a bad act.

Journalists would have to go through a process before reporting or broadcasting the information, like getting the couple and finding out what led to the quarrel. What looked like bad behaviour might simply be a terrible misunderstanding between a loving couple. Then a judgment call has to be made about whether the couple should be… left alone.

Social media is merciless in that sense. The trigger-happy way in which all sorts of content about other people go up has so much capacity to do harm. What amazes me is why some people don’t take action in the first place but prefer to watch something terrible play out in front of them – and then take pictures to be uploaded. Like spectator sports.

Of course, sometimes the harm is self-inflicted. Busy fingers work faster than the mind and before you know it, a few thoughtless words have “gone viral”. The backlash ensues and the hapless individual is left apologising for his unintentional, or merely ignorant, gaffe. Then there are those posts which are simply screaming for attention. Think Amos Yee. Or is this a case of “so much bad stuff” it must be news? So, quick, spread the vitriol around so even more people will be outraged!

We all love to see posts of people behaving badly, especially if they are important people. But even important people have their own reasons for doing or saying what they did.

Just ask Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, whose cardboard collecting exercise was trashed. Or you can ask Teo Ser Luck, who supposedly said that he was merely trying out a bed without a mattress in a workers’ dormitory to see what it was like. It went viral and even on to BBC, except that he never said it. It looks like even Facebook administrators in ministries who think they are doing their principals a PR favour need lessons on apt and inapt behaviour.

Before you start attacking, yup, there are plenty of great social media posts of the uplifting variety. I like watching them again and again. Like the video of people who rushed to lift a truck which had pinned down a man. It restores my faith in people.

You might say that this is not “news”. People do good things all the time and it’s the Internet which puts their behaviour online. So what’s new? Agree. Journalists would have tried to get some of the people who helped out, found out who they are and turn them into heroes. We get a fuller picture.

Remember the guy on the MRT train who stood up to a Caucasian bully? We made him a hero but do you realise that up till now, no one even knows who the Caucasian is, but the assumption is that he is a foreigner? That’s when journalists failed to answer a big question…

Social media is full of interesting stuff and it’s the best and the worst sides of human behavior that go viral. It’s a tough time for media which wants to catch more eyeballs because the truth is, news is often boring even if they are of the utmost importance. That’s why here, at TMG, we try to make sense of the news – and do it interestingly.

In any case, here’s a nod to the power of social media before the year is out.

 

Featured image by Ernest Goh.

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Graphic composite of Amos Yee, Kong Hee, Yang Yin and Jover Chew.

by Felix Cheong

Another year, another set of rogues to line the hallway of infamy. Who were the ones that got on the wrong side of the law this year and got our attention?

In this satirical story, writer Felix Cheong imagines how the Seven Deadly Sins – Pride, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth and Greed – meet to decide who, amongst them, was the outright winner of the year.


THE annual Council of the Seven Deadly Sins was finally in session. It had been adjourned a few days to let Wrath get over his anger management issues. Sloth, too, had asked for more time to get his act together.

But here they all were, seated like Knights of the Round Table. Wine, women (and men, for Lust was bisexual) and song were, as usual, in excess supply. It had been a great year, with converts aplenty.

Just before they were due to present their reports, Lust slumped to the ground, overcome by exhaustion from sex. The others laughed, of course – it was the same comic scene year after year – except for Wrath.

“What’s so funny about Lust dying an early death?” he asked, thumping his report so hard on the table that it lost a few pages. “I’ll go first.”

Wrath opened up his report dramatically. “First case: Sundram Peter Soosay. Hotshot assistant law professor at the NUS. Got so drunk two years ago that he threw up in a taxi, punched the driver out of anger and ended up getting charged for assault. Four months in the slammer and ordered to pay the victim $1,500 as compensation.”

Caricature of Soosay by Ian Nicholas Sharma
Illustration by Ian Nicholas Sharma.

There were nods and murmurs of “Well done!” all round. Pride even quipped, “Haha, talk about being called to the bar!”

“Second case,” Wrath continued, without missing a beat or batting an eyelid, “Roy Ngerng. Ordered by the court to pay the Prime Minister of Singapore $150,000 in damages for his defamatory blog post last year. Together with another blogger Han Hui Hui, Ngerng kept pressing the hot button issue of CPF till he raised some anger about it.”

Caricature of Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui by Ian Nicholas Sharma
Illustration by Ian Nicholas Sharma.

This time, though, the consensus wasn’t so forthcoming, with everyone waving their hands in the air to indicate “so-so”. “Lame!” said Envy, to which Wrath had to agree.

Pride, seizing the chance, cleared his throat with self-importance and presented his report. “I have only one case, but a very good one. Infamous Amos, not to be mistaken for the cookie. A teen who can’t stop shooting off his mouth. Uploaded a video that landed him in court. Found guilty of posting remarks intended to hurt feelings of Christians and uploading an obscene image. Four weeks’ jail but spent 50 days in remand. Last I heard, his ego is still baiting people to file police reports against him.”

Caricature of Amos Yee by Ian Nicholas Sharma
Illustration by Ian Nicholas Sharma.

The applause that followed was heartening to Pride. This was certainly his most successful disciple this year.

Up next was Sloth, who had earlier wanted to defer his report till next year. “Only one case,” he said, slurring his speech so much the others could barely understand him.

“Ello Ed Mundsel Bello. Filipino nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital with too much time on his hands. Posted on Facebook that Singaporeans are lazy, and I quote: ‘We take their jobs, their future, their women, and soon, we will evict all SG loosers out of their own country’. Ended up enjoying four months of hospitality in SG jail for his inflammatory remarks.”

A round of laughter ensued. “Maybe if he had spelled ‘loser’ correctly, he might’ve gotten off!” Envy said as he readied himself for his report.

“Mine is a carryover from last year. If you recall, Yang Yin, that PRC tour guide whom everyone loved to hate. So envious of the money of this rich widow that he schemed to get into her good books. Charged with falsifying receipts at his firm and misappropriating $1 million from her estate. His PR status is still up in the air, but not him. He’s still locked up in remand. This year, he tried to cash out two life insurance policies to pay for legal fees but was blocked by the court.”

Caricature of Yang Yin by Ian Nicholas Sharma
Illustration by Ian Nicholas Sharma.

“So you’ll be back again next year with this case?” Gluttony asked, burping.

“Most definitely!”

There was a long pause while Gluttony took his time to stand up.

“For once, I don’t have a person on my list,” he said slowly, which elicited a round of boos. “But I do have something that was up in the air for a few months. The haze.”

The boos quickly gave way to mutterings of “Yes, that was bad!”. Wrath seethed at the memory of how the haze had forced him to visit the clinic a few times for a persistent cough.

Gluttony continued. “The culprit: companies that kept burning forests for profit. And the dirty air just took up more and more space, till it became a regional problem.”

The rest nodded. Though it wasn’t quite what they had expected, the Council still acknowledged Gluttony’s achievement.

It was finally Greed’s turn. He was always the last to take the stage because he was always the one to win it outright, year after year. There was no getting round that Greed was the root and flowering of most evil.

“It’s been a great year,” Greed began, intent on getting on with the business of the day. “Four cases to report. First, an Ah Beng named Jover Chew. His Sim Lim shop, Mobile Air, cheated 26 people out of about $17,000, mostly by getting them to pay a deposit, then piled on extra charges. Infamous for returning deposit to a PRC tourist, all in coins. Also, a Vietnamese tourist had to kneel and begged him to return his deposit. Jover’s now been deposited in jail for 33 months and fined $2,000.”

Caricature of Jover Chew by Ian Nicholas Sharma
Illustration by Ian Nicholas Sharma.

A grudging round of applause followed. Greed ignored it and continued. “Second case: Dan Tan. Singapore’s most famous kelong king. Had his hands full fixing matches across Europe, South Africa, Nigeria and even Trinidad and Tobago. Released from detention without trial in November after the Court of Appeal freed him, but he’s been re-arrested.”

Pride quipped: “I bet he never saw that coming!”

Caricature of Dan Tan by Ian Nicholas Sharma
Illustration by Ian Nicholas Sharma.

Greed allowed himself a small smile, but continued. “Third case: former police officer Iskandar Rahmat. Found guilty for the Kovan double murder two years ago and sentenced to hang.

Caricature of Iskandar by Ian Nicholas Sharma
Illustration by Ian Nicholas Sharma.

“And finally, City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee. This one took a long time coming. 142 days, to be exact. My proudest moment when he was found guilty of misusing church funds and sentenced to eight years’ jail.”

Caricature of Kong Hee by Ian Nicholas Sharma
Illustration by Ian Nicholas Sharma.

Almost as an afterthought, Greed added, “I thank you for your support.”

With that, the Council of the Seven Deadly Sins patted Greed on the back and the meeting came to a close. It was all too clear who the winner this year was.

 

Featured image by Najeer Yusof.

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Photo By Shawn Danker
An Amos Yee supporter, who declined to be named, displays his placard at a start of a vigil being held in support of the teenager.

by Wan Ting Koh

AMOS Yee’s most recent blog post has got him into trouble with the authorities again and has led to vehement responses online. However one response, by the President of the Humanist Society, has chosen not to focus on the 17-year-old himself, but on the perceived vitriol against the youth, in turn sparking two camps of responses both online and offline.

Even though the letter Humanist Society president Paul Tobin wrote was in response to Amos Yee, his letter about the vitriolic responses towards Yee’s blog post has engaged citizens on a general discussion of intolerance towards offensive remarks online.

In his forum letter published last Friday, Mr Tobin condemned what he called the “obscene, threatening, abusive or insulting nature” of the comments that were in response to Amos Yee’s blog post. He said that the vindictive reactions towards the youth, which included threats of violence, were “disturbing” and were a manifestation of an “intolerant streak” in Singapore society.

“The idea that one’s views or beliefs should forever be shielded from criticism, analysis or ridicule is not one which should be condoned by a mature society,” said Mr Tobin.

Said Mr Tobin: “The idea that one’s views or beliefs should forever be shielded from criticism, analysis or ridicule is not one which should be condoned by a mature society.” He added that the authorities should intervene only if discussions – which should be based on fact, rationality and civility – pose a “clear and immediate danger of harm.”

His argument has prompted responses both in agreement and disagreement. While one side found it absolutely fine to take umbrage at offensive remarks, the other felt that uncivilised behaviour – even in response to Amos Yee himself – should remain intolerable.

In a forum letter published yesterday, Dr Yik Keng Yeong said in response to Mr Tobin that it would be hard for discussions to remain civil when one party is “willfully vulgar” and “with no regard for the sensitivities of the company”.

“Righteous indignation has played a major part in nation building – if our founding fathers had shielded themselves from being offended, there would not have been a Singapore,” said Dr Loh. 

He cited a “common argument” against online censorship, that netizens have the ability to self-regulate since they should be able to sieve through the “evils and injustices” online. Following that logic, netizens should be able to turn to the authorities when they come up against blatant and recalcitrant offenders.

Another two forum letters published in ST today were split in their responses towards Mr Tobin’s argument. In his letter, Mr Peter Chang Thaim Meng disagreed with Mr Tobin, saying that should the responses be vitriolic, the perpetrators of these responses should be taken to task for uncivilised behavior. He said justice should apply to both the offender and those who retaliate in kind.

On the other hand, Dr Michael Loh thinks that too much toleration, or a society that makes itself immune to being offended, would have to pay a “terrible price”. He raised how the nation was founded by forefathers who could not have succeeded if they “had shielded themselves from being offended”. In fact, dangerous views if “left unchecked” could undermine years of such nation building.

The issue at hand is where do we draw that line?… Is it fair for the authorities to draw a universal line across that or handle such offences on a case by case basis to be more fair and open?” asked netizen Malcolm Lu.

Some online responses were in favour of a non-confrontational approach to offensive remarks, which meant ignoring them. In a Facebook thread responding to the Mr Tobin’s letter, a netizen who went by the name Nicholas Tjr said: “When I get offended, I simply shut my laptop. Simple isn’t it? Some people don’t know simple things like this and needs to be taught. Basically what I’m saying is, get off the Internet.” On the same thread, a netizen known by the name of Tae Hyun, simply said: “Don’t read, don’t circulate or don’t take it too seriously. You can be free from attention seekers.”

Another netizen who went by the name of Malcolm Lu raised the issue of where to draw the line for offensive remarks, since each person could find different things offensive. “The issue at hand is where do we draw that line? ‘Being offended’ differs from people to people, depending on upbringing, values, morality and education. Some can take it, others can’t. Is it fair for the authorities to draw a universal line across that or handle such offences on a case by case basis to be more fair and open?” he asked. 

Whether it’s Amos Yee’s curse-ridden post or something that is offensive to you, which camp will you choose, to tolerate or to take offence?

 

Featured image TMG file.

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