Monday 14 December 2020

'Black man wearing white': How a UN vote on cannabis in Vienna led to a vote on whether a Facebook comment is racist in Singapore

Everyone makes comments on Facebook. Many even make comments on the Facebook pages of ministers.

But imagine if your comment is called out by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who then conducts an online poll to ask whether people think your comment is racist.


That’s what happened to “Nubela Goh”, turning him into Singapore social media’s latest villain of the week.

And it all started with those party animals at the United Nations (UN).

On Dec 2 in Vienna, Austria, the UN voted to remove cannabis from the most tightly controlled category of narcotic drugs to make research into its medical use easier.

In response, our Ministry of Home Affairs said: “Singapore is disappointed with this outcome.”

Mr Shanmugam told the media: “I put this down to the power of money. Companies see a huge amount of profit, and a very invidious idea that cannabis is not harmful, is being pushed.”

[UN CND Vote on Cannabis] Gave my views on the recent UN CND vote. There is substantive evidence that cannabis use is harmful. Our position on cannabis must be based on science and evidence.

Posted by K Shanmugam Sc on Tuesday, December 8, 2020

So that you don’t have to look it up, “invidious” means “likely to arouse or incur resentment or anger in others”.

Last Thursday, to further make his case, Mr Shanmugam posted on Facebook an e-mail from a “former cannabis abuser”, expressing his “gratitude for keeping Singapore safe from drugs”.

The e-mail read:
“I believe many abusers like myself started to try marijuana due to the widespread misinformation of the media portraying it to be harmless and ‘cool’. I fell for that, as did those around me. True enough, it is the gateway to the world of drugs and other abusive substances.”
The Facebook post got more than 200 comments, including this one:
“My msg to this young person, you are an inspiration… Thank you for sharing your personal experience, It is so valuable for ignorant people.”
And this is where our friend Nubela Goh (not his real name) came in, blithely changing his life forever by replying:
“Have you tried weed? If not, I think you might be the ignorant one gaslighted by a black man wearing white.”
It was buried under hundreds of other comments, so it was a fluke that anyone even noticed it.

A Facebook page called Gong Simi Singapore posted a screenshot of Nubela Goh’s reply, remarking:
“Singapore has no room for racism… This guy... called Indians ‘black man’ and calling people ignorant who had never tried weed while discrediting users who tried and warned people about it.”

Singapore has no room for racism. This comment was spotted at Minister Shanmugam's facebook post on the former cannabis...

Posted by Gong Simi Singapore on Thursday, December 10, 2020

Gong Simi Singapore revealed Nubela Goh's real name and his company as well.

Later that day, Mr Shanmugam also posted a screenshot of Mr Goh’s reply, asking: “Would people think this is racist? Or not?”

[Is this racist?] Nubela Goh, made the following comment on my post. Wonder what Singaporeans will think of the...

Posted by K Shanmugam Sc on Friday, December 11, 2020

The minister even created an online poll on Instagram Stories, where 88 per cent answered yes.


So a UN vote on marijuana in Vienna somehow led to an online vote on whether a Facebook comment is racist in Singapore. That's 2020 for ya.

Having gone viral, Mr Goh posted an apology of sorts:
“MinShan, there was zero intent in racism here and I apologise if you or any other people are slighted by that statement. No ifs/buts on that apology.

“For clarity: I literally said ‘Black man in a white shirt’ to highlight the fact that he is speaking for the PAP. It stands out. What I was trying to highlight is the WHITE SHIRT.

“If you put it into context sans the figure of speech, what I’m trying to say can be distilled down into this: ‘Have you tried weed? If not you might be the ignorant one gaslight by _someone who speaks loudly for PAP_.’”
Not to nitpick, but Mr Goh literally did not use the word “shirt” at all in his original statement. He actually wrote “black man wearing white”, which implied a shirt but it was not what he said he said.

Mr Shanmugam shared the apology, which wasn’t well received. So Mr Goh rewrote his apology and edited it down to: “MinShan, I apologise for the distasteful use of words.”

Nubela Goh has put up a post, apologising, in the following terms.

He has also asked if I could remove references to...

Posted by K Shanmugam Sc on Friday, December 11, 2020

Then the issue of doxxing by the minister came up, which Mr Shanmugam addressed:
“He (Nubela Goh) has also asked if I could remove references to his name and the name of his company. I have decided to do so, but told him – his name and his company’s name were in his original comment when he posted his comment on my FB page. I put up a screen shot, and made my comment.”
Since “Nubela Goh” already has much of his personal details online for anyone to easily google, he has essentially pre-doxxed himself.

Who could have predicted that a discussion about the dangers of pot could morph into a minor controversy about racism and doxxing?

It’s all the UN’s fault.

- Published in The New Paper, 14 December 2020