Sunday 28 July 2013

Social media – where every day is April Fool’s Day

Don’t believe everything you read. Or at least, don’t take it too seriously.

Last month, I wrote a column about Aaron Aziz being named Singapore’s Most Popular Actor at the Social Star Awards. The headline was: “Aaron Aziz has so many followers on Instagram, he may require an MDA licence.”

The Straits Times republished the article on its website and tweeted about it. Someone, presumably an Aaron Aziz fan, responded on Twitter: “That was the last straw. MDA, YOU’VE COMPLETELY LOST IT.”

Apparently, this person had barely tolerated the Media Development Authority’s recently announced licensing scheme for Singapore news websites, but once the Government threatened to regulate his or her favorite actor’s Instagram account, that was crossing the line.

Of course, Aaron doesn’t really need to get an MDA licence despite having more than a quarter of a million Instagram followers. Like almost everything I do, that headline was a joke.

I thought the idea of MDA requiring the former Heartlanders star to get a licence for his Instagram was so ridiculous that no one could possibly believe it was true.

Once again, I was wrong.

Fortunately, another person replied to the tweet, explaining: “NOT TRUE LAH. SM Ong writes parody articles.”

But the fan remained unforgiving and tweeted back: “Okay, that’s a relief, my bad. But still, the new licensing regimes for ‘news’ sites is fucking stupid.”

MDA just can’t catch a break.

Still, I sympathise with the Aaron Aziz fan. With the overwhelming amount of information being shared on social media literally every second, it can be hard to tell what is true and what is a joke.

Every day can be April Fool’s Day. Even in July.

For instance, I read on Facebook last week that, thanks to Singapore, the United Nations has designated Nov 19 as World Toilet Day.

At first, I dismissed it as a fake news story, like those from The Onion, a satirical website based in the US. I wasn’t letting myself get punked.

I mean, I get it. Since Singaporeans have already bottled recycled sewage water as drinking water, it would be just like us to propose a World Toilet Day to the UN.

And people accuse me of toilet humour.

But then I saw the story repeated on the websites MDA want to regulate and I realised, wait a minute, this World Toilet Day thing is for real.

That realisation nearly made me choke on my NEWater. Cough.

Also on Facebook last week, I read this headline: “Din Tai Fung bracing its restaurants for toothpick thievery.”

I assumed this had to be true since The Straits Times had reported that minister Lim Swee Say had said that he is so impressed by the toothpicks of the Din Tai Fung restaurant chain that he “pinches” half a box every visit.

As it turned out, the headline was from a satirical website called, a sort of local version of The Onion.

That means the part about a cabinet minister blithely fessing up to pilferage is true (since it was in the non-satirical Straits Times), but the part about Din Tai Fung preparing for a run on its toothpicks was a joke... I think.

Mr Lim does seem to have nice teeth.

But sometimes a joke may not turn out the way you expect.

Last Sunday, 65-year-old former presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian posted on Facebook:
“I downloaded a thermometer app. It showed outside temperature to be 32.6 C. I was not sure if it was accurate. I put the phone into the fridge for 5 mins and took it out. It (s)till showed 32.6 C. Is this app working correctly?”

He later realised his gaffe, but it had already gone viral. Some weren’t sure if Mr Tan was joking, but others mocked him.

Blogger Lee Kin Mun, better known as Mr Brown, joked that “We could have had him for President” and “Good thing he didn't try to measure boiling water”, adding “Fail indeed”.

A few commenters took umbrage at the gibe. One wrote:
“Mr. Tan is old-school, in his late 60s, and speaks his mind. There’s nothing shameful about his lack of understanding of iPhone.

“Would you make fun of your parents if they don’t know iPhone?

“Shame on you, Mr Brown.”

It didn’t stop there. Mr Brown posted on Facebook:
“Wow, the Tan Kin Lian fan club has descended on my blog. Now invoking my autistic daughter, Faith, too. Nice.”

Mr Brown was referring to this comment:
“Satire is fine. exaggeration, mimicry all in good humor. stirring shit i condone. but this goes way beyond all of those in that it is a personal attack on someone else's ineptitude.

“really, as someone who wields such sway over public opinion, do you need to stoop this low?

“you once talked at length about the challenges of parenting Faith, about how it made you understand the world and its struggles a little better.

“as father to a child born with severe learning disability this resonated with me tremendously and i was instantly won over.

“today these notions of noblesse oblige lie in shambles and i am convinced you are nothing more than a hypocrite who plays to whatever the crowd wants to hear.

“like my son, Faith will come of age someday. neither of us will be around to fend for them completely, their fate rests in the hands of society.

“will it be kind? will it hold them up when they fall? will they be helped along, even if they are not as fast or as smart as the rest? or will they be mocked, shamed, and branded as 'fails'?

“i know that you think scorning a public figure sets this apart from how we treat the challenged.

“yet this is a slippery slope that seeds itself in the minds of our youth. it makes them less forgiving and hinders their ability to see things from the eyes of the less fortunate.”

And yet it’s okay for everyone to scorn this year’s National Day song?

As for Mr Tan, he later explained his Facebook post:
“I posted the item to see if other people also realised it. A few people knew the answer and posted the reply politely.

“Some other people took the chance to post insulting remarks. It shows their narrow-minded(ness) and rude character and their lack of a sense of humour.”

Wait, so he was trolling us all along? Et tu, Mr Tan?

Now I’m confused. So can you really tell the temperature with the iPhone or not?

Someone please let me know before World Toilet Day.

- Published in The New Paper, 28 July 2013