From sustained attempts at misinformation and disinformation to creepy Water Wally, here are 10 social media moments that stood out in 2013.
1. Misinformation and Disinformation Galore. The Real Singapore, without exercising due diligence, published an electronic letter which was falsely attributed to Member of Parliament Irene Ng. When confronted, its administrators were as indignant as they were petulant, claiming that they “do not necessarily agree with or have the ability to completely censor all articles posted to [the] site by users”.
The Straits Times’s citizen journalism platform, STOMP, has fared no better. Vile, insipid, and at times utterly pointless. Just recently, the website published a photograph of a soldier who made a little boy carry a field pack and duffel bag, but it was later clarified that the boy had wanted to “test himself and see if he could carry the bag” after his uncle’s in-camp training.
2. Water Wally Folly. Water Wally has been the official mascot of the Public Utilities Board since 2005, and the statutory board produced the “Water Wally Shower Dance” promotional video this year. While the intent was to encourage individuals to reduce time spent in the shower through a light-hearted rap music video, a scene when Water Wally walked in on a boy showering was seen to be creepy (it has since been removed). The song and dance routine was not a big hit on the Internet.
3. The Guide Dog Incident. In September Miss Cassandra Chiu, founder of her own counselling practice, posted the Facebook update “Just thrown out of Haagen D Daz At HV”. It was later revealed that she had been denied entry into a Häagen-Dazs parlour because of her guide dog, Esme, and the incident was the subject of commentaries and letters in the MSM. This was especially significant, following the G’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Häagen-Dazs later apologised for the misunderstanding.
4. Promotional Campaigns: Aye or Nay? German couple Dana and Stefan’s open YouTube invitation to Singaporeans for a home-cooked dinner was initially met with positive responses. Yet later, the invitation turned out to be a marketing gimmick by NTUC FairPrice. Throughout the year, Subway commercials – promoting its sandwiches – featured actors speaking in varying accents. While some thought that these whimsical campaigns were brilliant or creative, the advertisements left a sour taste for others.
5. Songs by the People, for the People. The theme song for the National Day Parade, performed by a 68-member choir of Singaporeans, drew mixed responses. However, while many were quick to criticise, innovative groups got together to write and produce their own songs or music videos for the country’s 48th birthday.
6. #FreeMyInternet. In June, the Media Development Agency (MDA) placed online news sites “on a more consistent regulatory framework with traditional news platforms which are individually licensed”. In December, it required news and commentary sites the Breakfast Network and The Independent – Singapore to register, so as to “prevent foreign interests from influencing local politics through Singaporean media whether in print, broadcast, or online”.
7. Of Values and Virality. Ashley Madison, a social networking service marketed with the slogan “Life is short. Have an affair”, had announced plans to launch in Singapore in 2014. A Facebook petition – gathering more than 13,000 supporters within two days – coupled by Minister Chan Chun Sing’s written opposition to “any company or website that harms marriage”, prompted the Media Development Authority to eventually block the launch of the website. The company promotes adultery and disregards family values, it said.
8. Anonymous. An online video from “The Messiah”, purportedly representing the hacktivist organisation Anonymous, threatened to bring down key infrastructure in the country. Websites were subsequently defaced or vandalised, and when government websites were inaccessible en masse, the Infocomm Development Authority explained that the websites were actually under planned maintenance. Singaporean James Raj has since been arrested and charged in court.
9. The Hijab Issue. With the hijab (back) in the public spotlight, many Facebook users displayed a profile picture of a Muslim woman wearing a Singapore flag headscarf. The exchange between the G and the Muslim community highlighted perceived inconsistencies across the public service and beyond. Member of Parliament Zaqy Mohamad suggested that the 12,405-strong online petition involved astro-turfing, but strong exchanges persisted in the media. The G’s ham-fisted responses have not gone down well.
10. Riot Ramblings. The ugly? Racist and xenophobic sentiments were ubiquitous on social media channels. The bad? Misinformation and speculation, as netizens leaped eagerly to conclusions about root causes and police deaths based on inaccurate hearsays. The good? Rational and responsible Singaporeans who stood up to condemn these perpetrators, and at the same time showing that the Internet community is not (always) the “wild wild west”.