It all started with an anonymous e-mail
The Gushcloud-Singtel scandal all began with an anonymous e-mail to Ms Wendy Cheng, the blogger better known as Xiaxue.
The e-mail, which she received on March 11, contained a link to a website which had posted leaked documents from social media agency Gushcloud.
The documents included a brief by the agency, asking its bloggers to smear rival telcos M1 and StarHub, as part of a Singtel digital campaign last June to promote a mobile plan for youth.
"I couldn't believe my eyes. I've never, ever seen a brief like that... asking to trash a competitor," said 30-year-old Ms Cheng in an interview with The Sunday Times.
She started doing research to confirm the allegations, going through Gushcloud bloggers' various platforms, including Twitter and Instagram. She found that the brief had been followed.
After getting three lawyers to look at her material, she put everything up on her blog on March 14. Little did she realise the storm it would cause.
The Infocomm Development Authority opened an investigation into whether Singtel had breached competition rules. StarHub said it was exploring its legal options.
Last Thursday, Singtel's group chief executive officer Chua Sock Koong apologised to M1 and StarHub. The telco also parted ways with an employee who had been involved in the campaign, and cut all ties with Gushcloud.
But the damage was done. Netizens came out to slam both Singtel and Gushcloud, which apologised as well, for the negative marketing campaign.
Social media experts described the incident as a wake-up call for the industry.
Ms Cheng, who studied media and communication at Singapore Polytechnic, said: "I'm kind of surprised that it has blown up to be so big. I never expected that."
Many also wondered if her post was simply a way to discredit Gushcloud, a rival to Nuffnang, the social media company she belongs to. In December, she also put up an "expose" alleging that Gushcloud inflated its bloggers' page views.
"There is criticism that I 'punish' people by blogging about them based on my own warped sense of morals... People think that I'm very arrogant," said Ms Cheng,
"But I don't do that, unless they personally challenge me or insult me until I really buay tahan (Hokkien for 'cannot endure it') already."
That was part of the reason for her first expose, she said. She was offended when Gushcloud co-founder Vincent Ha disputed one of her posts last March, she added.
Ms Cheng has in the past also named and shamed commenters who posted derogatory remarks about her and her friends on the Facebook page of sociopolitical blog Temasek Review.
Earlier this year, she took out a protection order against the satirical Facebook page SMRT Ltd (Feedback) for harassing her.
But she said her latest post had as much to do with the importance of holding the industry to certain standards.
She also realised that the possible fallout could hurt Nuffnang and the social media advertising industry in which she was an early pioneer, as clients and netizens may lose confidence in bloggers.
Said Ms Cheng, who started her full-time blogging career in 2005 and now earns as much as "five figures" a month: "But in the long term, it will probably improve the industry."
This article was first published on March 22, 2015.
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