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  • Writer's pictureDennis Toh

The politics of hate and the emergence of online paparazzi

Imagine waking up one day in the morning and realising that you have more than 100 notifications on your mobile phone. Your usual routine of checking your work emails have morphed into a cyber nightmare. As you scroll down your notifications, you realised random strangers have taken interest in you and they have taken the trouble to send personal messages to your Instagram. No, it is not because of the nice photo shot at Jewel Changi. Nor is it the IG story you posted about the buffet dinner you had. As you scrutinise the messages, you start to realise they are hate speeches, or comments.

All of a sudden, your life is thrown into a whirlwind of cyber-bullying, hate speech and media attention.

As you check your facebook feed, you realised that your name is being tagged by random people, alternative news sites, old acquaintances, with messages like ‘Is that you?, Why can you do such things?, oh, I didn’t know you were like that?’ You then click onto the news reports and to your horror, several news articles about you have been posted. You checked further and realised there are 300 plus shares, 400 angry emoticons and 500 comments, averagely per article. You have just gone viral. You then brace yourself to conduct a content analysis and realised that 100% of the messages are negative. Not even one person is defending you. You know you are in deep shit. ‘I am suddenly an Internet Celebrity’, you probably laugh at yourself. But all for the wrong reasons. What have the world become, you asked yourself? People have suddenly become very self -righteous and they take every opportunity to pass judgement at others. ‘Do they even know me?’ ‘Do they even remember all the good stuff I have done?’ Not a single one.

In today’s dynamic and fast-moving media environment, publishers and individuals are constantly on the look out for fresh news, ideas, issues and politics to talk about. If we are not in line with the current agenda of social media, we are deemed as a laggard.

The sheer announcement of a new A&W outlet in Jewel Changi caused a sudden interest in people, causing Long queues lasting for 2 hours before you get hold of your precious root beer float. The ‘Go Jek’ incident involving a squat between a Malay male driver and female chinese passenger has sparked issues about racism and generated an online sensation of memes and spoofs on ‘Is it because I am a chinese?’ Such trends are a result of the immediacy and instant gratification the internet has conditioned us to be and to behave. We want results fast and there’s nothing wrong to operate in a dynamic and ever-evolving mode. We are all waiting for that one person to fall or that one company to fail, so we can have our digital content planned out for the next few days. Or so we could start our cyber Coffeeshop gossip on our usual WhatsApp group chats. The media shines their spotlight on these ‘unfortunate candidates’ as they brace themselves to prepare their press statements or reactions in the days to come. Why are we even concerned with a series of leaked WhatsApp message between two adults who happened to be Singapore’s local celebrities? The private space, which is shared by 2 consenting adults, are meant to be theirs, and however out of bound or suggestive the messages are, its their properties to keep. They hold the copyright as the conversations are curated originally by them. Put moral values aside but to have these conversations leaked and followed by a series of media frenzy, is an unfortunate trend facing the Singapore’s digital scene. The NUS’ peeping Tom situation has also escalated into a high level of media coverage and frenzy. The role of the media, fundamentally, is to inform, educate and entertain. The media has the power to hold powerful people and institutions accountable, and provide checks and balances that serve the needs of people. The traditional media, being television, radio, and newspapers are important conduits that transmit information and knowledge to the general public. In the olden days, the manufacturing of news or ideas go through a Long process of writing, editing and publishing, all with the consideration of adhering to good media ethics and journalistic standards. The selected few who hold the power of the pen obviously become very influential in the court of public opinion. They have the power to shift and alter public opinion, in which ever way they want. Students go through stringent and rigorous training in journalism and media schools, just to prepare themselves to be better truth seekers in the court of life. Come 2020, a world where people have begun to accept the authenticity of online platforms and alternative news sites, these digital platforms are spinning news on a more sensational and regular basis. The measure of every article is perhaps not the editorial prerogative or fundamental truths it can uncover. It is perhaps the quantitative measurements like Likes, Shares, or comments that play an important role for every writer. If we don’t trend this article, we are not doing a good job, I imaging every editor or media owner telling their ever-pleasing millennial Writers or interns. ‘It is indeed a very difficult period of my life. I wake up every morning in fears and not knowing what i would expect. I have had random people texting me and reprimanding me about what I have done. I don’t even know these people and little did i realised that all these have a negative psychological repercussion to my personal & spiritual well being. I have been a very strong person through my life and this episode made me wondered about my own life and re-orientated my spiritual awakenings with my God’. Said Samuel Seow. Samuel Seow was embroiled into a ‘fighting’ episode with his Niece a year ago. The audio file was leaked and suddenly his office affairs were staged in the public domain for public scrutiny. What was perhaps a family affair involving an Uncle and a Niece, quarreling over work issues, have been magnified and morphed into more serious & political notions relating to sexism and bullying. Over night, the lawyer who is known for his involvement and contribution to the media, arts and entertainment scene, has become the ‘mentally unstable’ and ‘angry’ Uncle who throws his weight around everyone in his office, so the media puts it. For once, this lawyer who has spent half of his life fighting for his clients and winning law suits, is fighting to stay positive in his current situation. ‘I have to be honest, there were times when i woke up and I felt lousy about myself. It is not a good state to be in. I want to move on and focus on my passion in the law and media. I don’t think the media has painted the right perception of me and i am concerned over the emergence of online paparazzi, a group of netizens that take every opportunity to strike at people’s ‘misfortune’. The video version of the fight recently surfaced and it has caused further distress to Samuel. Have we all become semi professional paparazzis? A growing pool of netizens who are relatively untrained in writing, or journalism, but having the flair and nose for gossips, scandals, misfortunes and bad stuff. The old saying that media reports mostly bad news is replicated and played out in the digital form as social media becomes a platform for us to propagate hate, incite fears, and spread gossips and scandals. Look around you, how many times have you seen someone posting facebook updates about their displeasure at work? How many times have you heard someone complaining about the bad service of companies or the lousy food served at a particular restaurant. The more you look deeper, the more you realised the internet is infested with negative news and reports. Have we ever wondered about the Long-term psychogical impact it has on us and the people we love. Look at the recent case about the young girl from Malaysia who asked her followers to choose between D or L? What was she exactly thinking and why would she even resort to the Internet to decide the fate of her life? She died as a result of a poll where more people chose ‘D’, which i presume it stands for ‘DIE’. How scary and bizarre our internet world, has perhaps become. Young people are taking things literally from what they hear and feel online. In this increasingly stressful, complicated and complex world, are we constantly searching for our own self through the misfortune and downfall of others; such that we validate our well being or self through the plight of others. Are we quick to jump into the bandwagon just because everyone is doing so? Are we equipped with critical thinking skills to reflect issues and ideas in a more in-depth level, rather than taking everything at face value? Are we guilty of propagating more hate through our careless and selfish comments and sharing, without looking at ourselves, and the stones we have thrown which have perhaps, rebounded back at us? Are we so hungry for real and dynamic entertainment content that we add our own layers and sub plot into the main story line? Think about it. It is indeed fun, sitting as the spectator, laughing and passing judgement at the performer. Eating your pop corn and waiting for the show to start. Some might not want the show to end.

Imagine one day the spot light turns back at you. You are catapulted into the main stage and you are now expected to be the main lead. 3, 2, 1 Action, the camera rolls. The drama is now yours to enjoy

[First Posted in May 2019]

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