'Foot-in-mouth' disease spreads online

We are writing to report yet another outbreak of foot-in-mouth disease (FIMD) in Singapore, which may have reached epidemic proportions.

The latest infection took place two weeks ago - according to Facebook, Patient Zero was beauty queen Jesslyn Tan, 25.

The Miss Singapore Universe 2013 finalist was said to have been on an MRT train when she snapped a picture of a man with a hole in his T-shirt. She was infected after she posted the photograph on Facebook.

Her caption - "Holey moley. Sibei trendy worzxxz" - was her final utterance before she was found to have her foot in her mouth.

All known sufferers of this disease have been users of online social networks with a propensity to click faster than they think.

It is now known that FIMD is brought on by virulent attacks by a species of netizens who appear to seize on any post, photo or comment that offends moral sense. These keyboard warriors are quick to judge, insensitive towards their targets and do not seek clarification before launching their attacks. In short, they seem to behave in the same way as their quarry.

In Miss Tan's case, her condition erupted from 160 rapid-fire comments that ironically slammed her for lacking sensitivity.

In fact, experts have said that graciousness is one antibody against FIMD infections. Unfortunately, the health authorities have not been able to manufacture this antibody outside artificial settings.

Otherwise, Mr Anton Casey and Ms Amy Cheong might have been allowed to recover from their infections after a brief bout of the illness. British expat Casey had complained about the "stench of public transport" on Facebook, while Ms Cheong, an Australian and Singapore permanent resident, had posted an expletive-filled racist rant.

Instead, the feet in their mouths were so large that they had to leave the country to recuperate.

The disease does have some positive side effects. As the attacks run their course, patients typically exhibit signs ranging from indignation to embarrassment and remorse. Miss Tan has presumably been allowed to recover after she apologised online.

However, one problem is the mode of transmission of the disease - via the Internet, which results in collateral damage in the form of secondary victims.

In Miss Tan's case, the relentless attacks to stuff her foot in her mouth led to her photo being circulated widely on the Internet, resulting in the subject of her photo receiving even more attention.

After Mr Koh Hee Huat realised what happened, the 55-year-old hawker assistant suffered a bad bout of shame and embarrassment. He could hardly work - he contemplated quitting his job at the hawker stall.

He was quoted in news reports lamenting: "I feel I have no more face... I just don't understand why a small hole on my shirt made people laugh so much."

It is suggested that collateral damage like Mr Tan should be inoculated through growing a thicker skin.

However, a longer-term cure needs to be found for the acts and attacks that lead to FIMD itself, which shows a close relation to cyber-bullying.

But experts have speculated that this is difficult: Unlike the offline sphere, the netizens do not have to put their money where their mouth is.

 


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