Monday 2 September 2019

Woman forced open MRT door because of 'autistic sister': 'Hoax' claim also a hoax?

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said last week that commuters may have to wait longer for trains during off-peak hours.

He must be expecting more delays caused by desperate women forcing open doors in MRT stations and getting stuck between them.

That last part is not true. It’s my attempt at a joke. You know that – I hope.

I don’t want to be accused of spreading fake news. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned in his National Day Rally speech, POFMA will catch me.

Already too much fake news has been going around lately.

There was no ceiling collapse in Jewel Changi Airport or stabbing in Tampines Mall as alleged in a couple of viral videos.

There is no gang war in Yishun, although a man in Yishun was caught trying to steal a bra from a pole hanging outside a second-storey flat with an umbrella, which is unfortunately not fake news and probably more disturbing.

But the viral video of the woman forcing open the MRT doors at the Little India station is legit. We know that because SBS Transit confirmed that the incident happened last Monday at 3.30pm.

People criticised the woman for her anti-door behaviour.

Then a screengrab of a Reddit post by someone named “phong” started circulating.

It read:
“I know this auntie. While everyone here is blasting her, I thought I will provide some context for her actions.

“The lady who scurried into the train first? Her younger sister, who is autistic. Who has a history of wandering off and forgetting her way home.

“Hopefully you will begin to understand her motivations for trying so hard to board the train after her.”
Though it was unverified, many shared the post as fact and vilification turned into sympathy.

Then a Twitter user named EllieTay tweeted a whole thread to claim:
“She is my mother and regarding the story about her chasing her autistic sister is a hoax.”
She explained:
“What actually happened is that she and her friend were rushing to get home… (This was at the time where everyone is also getting home from work) and the MRT was packed with people, my mother’s friend got in first, with my mother from behind didn’t want to be left alone to wait for another train, barged forward and pried open the door which got her stuck.”
EllieTay added:
“When my mother and her friend arrived at their stop, they were approached by the SMRT staff for questioning. I was called in to pick up my mother and have talked to the staff, fortunately they are not asking for any compensation for the door, they only gave a warning to my mother to be more careful.”
So which account is true?

While a couple of websites have reported the tweets, they have not been as widely shared as the “autistic sister” post.

My guess is people are now wary that the tweets claiming that the earlier post was a hoax may be a hoax too. Once bitten, twice shy.

The funny thing is that you can see that reporters from The Straits Times, The New Paper and Channel NewsAsia have replied to the one of EllieTay’s tweets, asking her to get in touch with them, most likely to verify her claims.

Since the news outlets have yet to report the tweets, it’s safe to assume they have not been verified. Don’t want POFMA to catch them and all that.

I find the tweets rather dubious myself.

First, EllieTay said the incident took place when everyone was “getting home from work”, but SBS Transit had said it happened at 3.30pm, which is not when most people leave work.

Second, she said “the MRT was packed with people”, but in the video, the train and the platform were not “packed” – since, you know, it was only 3.30pm.

Third, she said that “SMRT staff” approached her mother and friend for questioning, but the incident happened on the Downtown line, which is operated by SBS Transit, not SMRT.

Okay, maybe she got the two rail operators mixed up, which is understandable enough, but I doubt that the staff members could have so quickly identified and tracked down the mother and friend at a different station. That’s a lot of surveillance, coordination and running around just to give someone a warning.

Also, SBS Transit hasn’t said anything about having spoken to the passengers involved in the incident, which I believe it would if it did.

What do you believe?

What do you want to believe?

An auntie running after an autistic sister is a better story than a mother trying to catch up to a friend.

And that’s what makes fake news so seductive. It’s hard to resist sharing a good story.

Sometimes you wish the news was fake.

Like when the Transport Minister says you may have to wait longer for the train.

Hey, where’s my bra?

- Published in The New Paper, 2 September 2019