What you see is not always what you believe on the Net

Do we exercise enough judgment with the information that flows through our social media feeds?

The answer does not come easily to many of us, but two recent incidents serve as a reminder that there is often more to a Facebook or Twitter post than meets the eye.

The first one was put up by Facebook user Evan Loh last Saturday.

He described an encounter in Ang Mo Kio Central with an 83-year-old man, who had asked him for some money to buy a meal.

Mr Loh said he was overcome with shame, upon learning that the "Uncle" had to resort to asking for meals as he did not have enough to make ends meet and did not want to add to his family's burden.

"It seems that we have become a nation of detached, distrusting strangers. We forget to take care of one another," Mr Loh said in a post that received 30,000 likes, comments and shares.

The Social and Family Development Ministry promptly investigated the matter. In an update, however, it said that "he and his family are fine, and are financially stable".

A Chinese newspaper later claimed to have interviewed the elderly man. He, apparently, admitted to being a habitual gambler and had squandered away his earnings and did not want to eat the food prepared by his wife at home.

The other incident happened on Thursday. Retail firm general manager Celine Chia posted of an encounter, with an accompanying photo of a fellow commuter, whom she said had hogged a priority seat on the train.

In a post that was shared nearly 9,000 times before it was taken down, Ms Chia said the man refused to give his seat up to a woman who was struggling with a baby. "It's my choice, and I am not giving up my seat to her," he apparently said.

In his defence, accountant Syn Kok Meng, the commuter who had come under attack, told The Straits Times on Friday that he was unwell at the time.

"I'm usually a shy person who will give up his seat to those in need. But I had worked late and was feeling tired and unwell," said Mr Syn, who has a heart condition.

The incident drew comments aplenty, either praising or condemning Ms Chia's actions. It also generated a discussion on whether priority seats created a sense of entitlement among certain commuters.

Some, however, took issue with the cyber-bullying on display.

"Rash vigilantism can cause much harm, specifically, by unnecessarily shaming individuals before the situations have been made clear," said Reddit user AmazingRW.

This call to reason bore striking similarities to a comment Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin made on Wednesday regarding the elderly man - that members of the public face an uphill task in identifying whether what they see or read tells the whole story.

LIFE AFTER MEME

You might not know her name, but there is a high chance you would have come across her face in an infamous ad for plastic surgery. Taiwanese model Heidi Yeh was one half of the attractive "parents" in the ad. Their three "children" had their faces altered to make their eyes smaller and noses flatter.

The caption read: "The only thing you'll ever have to worry about is how to explain it to the kids."

According to the BBC, Ms Yeh said her life was ruined after the ad became a popular Internet meme. She began to receive fewer jobs and said her then boyfriend broke up with her partly due to embarrassment.

Ms Yeh, who estimated she lost about $170,000 in potential earnings, is now threatening to sue the clinic and advertising agency.

In response, a spokesman for the advertising agency said: "As we all know, no one controls the Internet... We can't anticipate what degree of an impact it will have, how people will view it and what they will do with it."

CROWDSOURCING TO CATCH DANGEROUS DRIVERS

Reckless drivers beware - some motorists are banding together in a bid to make Singapore's roads safer.

Their latest efforts can be seen in a 47-second video uploaded on Friday to the Facebook page of Beh Chia Lor - Singapore Road, a community-driven page dedicated to road safety.

Stitched together with footage from the dashboard cameras of several motorists, it shows a white BMW weaving in and out of traffic, overtaking other vehicles and, occasionally, braking suddenly.

The video garnered more than 200,000 views in less than 24 hours. Netizens have also alerted the Singapore Police Force to the video. Such videos look set to appear with increasing frequency.

Another Facebook page that is part of the crusade against dangerous driving has recently started offering cash payments for dashboard camera footage that goes viral. A video that reaches more than 30,000 views will earn the uploader $300.

The catch? The footage must be exclusive to the page and only the first uploader gets the cash.


This article was first published on November 1, 2015.
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