Humour: Have online pranksters grown up in 2015?

Humour: Have online pranksters grown up in 2015?

Once again, let me start with an apology.

A reader named Steven e-mailed me to complain about my column about Xiaxue last week.

He wrote: "This woman Xiaxue has no brains and no skills and adds no economic value. Just a bloody waste of time listening to her. I don't know why the mainstream media even bother to give her publicity."

I'm apologising because I'm going to give Xiaxue a little more publicity this week - although today's column is more about SMRT Ltd (Feedback).

Not affiliated with the real SMRT Corporation at all, the online entity known as SMRT Ltd (Feedback) was started as a joke to make fun of the spate of MRT breakdowns in December 2011, which were so bad a public inquiry was held.

More than three years later, ex-SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa is gone, but SMRT Ltd (Feedback) is still around to troll unsuspecting commuters who write in to complain about SMRT train and bus services.

But nowadays, SMRT Ltd (Feedback) is probably too famous (or infamous) for this to happen any more. Blame Mr Jover Chew.

As you may recall, in November, a Vietnamese tourist was reduced to tears in Mr Chew's mobile phone shop in Sim Lim Square.

SMRT Ltd (Feedback) published Mr Chew's address and phone number online, which led to Mr Chew and his wife being harassed. Some lauded SMRT Ltd (Feedback) for giving the vilified phone salesman what he deserved. Others decried the online vigilantism.

By then, SMRT Ltd (Feedback) had transcended its original prankster mission and found a higher calling as the social media equivalent of Charles Bronson from Death Wish. After dispensing with Mr Chew, SMRT Ltd (Feedback) needed a new target and eventually set its sights on a company called Data Register.

What is Data Register and what did it do to earn SMRT Ltd (Feedback)'s wrath?

That's a bit complicated and boring.

What Data Register does is send out letters to businesses, asking them to verify information on its database. And if they did, Data Register would send them a bill.

Last year, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) filed 104 charges against Data Register for failing to display the company name and registration number in its correspondences. Acra also issued a few public alerts on the company.

But some felt the authorities weren't doing enough.

So on Dec 18, SMRT Ltd (Feedback) announced on Facebook: "We are going to embark on the next ops against Data Register Pte Ltd."

NEW TARGET

But alas, the "ops" didn't happen. Why? Because a more... uh... attractive target emerged.

On Dec 23, blogger Xiaxue (real name Wendy Cheng) published an "expose" on a company called Gushcloud, a competitor of Nuffnang, which is the company Xiaxue is with.

It quickly became the talk of the local blogosphere.

On Dec 27, SMRT Ltd (Feedback) made another Facebook announcement: "Ok Xiaxue is bloody annoying acting all innocent and s***. 10,000 likes to this post and we'll do a 'Xiaxue Expose' to wrap up 2014."

The post got more than 30,000 likes.

After much build-up, SMRT Ltd (Feedback) published its statistics-filled "Xiaxue & Nuffnang Expose (Part I)" on New Year's eve, but it wasn't what fans expected.

One commented: "That's it? Your big expose is that Xiaxue is brilliant at picking timed fights and bad at accounting?"

Another comment: "This is an... expose? Even my shrivelled orange was juicier."

SMRT Ltd (Feedback) responded to its disappointed followers: "If you guys were expecting the expose to be Xiaxue's address, phone number, her husband company boss contact etc. her personal life, email records - don't bother. Yes we have them all. But we don't roll that way now. It's 2015. Let's grow up."

Gasp! Has SMRT Ltd (Feedback) mellowed with age?

Did the criticisms about vigilantism get to the pranksters?

Have they realised that with great power comes great responsibility?

Is that why they held back with Xiaxue? Sure, many people can't stand her, like my reader Steven. But Xiaxue is no Jover Chew.

In her otherwise dismissive rebuttal to SMRT Ltd (Feedback)'s so-called expose, even Xiaxue thanked SMRT Ltd (Feedback) for its restraint: "Thank you... for not going so low. My family and friends are innocent and should not be involved."

You know who else should be thankful? The folks at Data Register.

They seemed to have dodged a bullet.

For now.

Will there be a part two? The sequels to Death Wish were terrible.


This article was first published on January 4, 2015.
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