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Words Have Power

Here’s another reminder of how important it is to exercise discretion and forethought on social media. Former Miss Singapore Universe finalist, Jesslyn Tan, 25, posted a photo of a man on Facebook, together with an insensitive comment about a hole in his T-Shirt. The post read, “Holey Moley. Sibei trendy worzxxz.” In no time, it was widely circulated on Facebook and Twitter, before featuring on local media outlets Stomp and The New Paper. That man was Mr Koh Hee Huat, who had just finished a day’s work of selling Teochew porridge at Boyang Coffee Shop.  Exhausted from work, Mr Koh had fallen asleep on the train. The photo was taken without his permission or acknowledgment. The incident triggered outrage from local netizens, and led to the beauty queen removing the post as well as making an online apology.

Despite repeated incidents (of similar kind) and the social media storms they provoke, it seems many young Singaporeans (and some older ones too!) have not yet internalised the lesson. Parents play an integral role in reminding children to practise responsible online behaviour, especially in being accountable for the words they publish on social media platforms. Moreover, parents should move from merely correcting behaviour to cultivating values of empathy and kindness. Children must realise words have power – they themselves must decide whether to use this influence for good or for bad. In this instance, Ms Tan’s careless post caused Mr Koh to feel ashamed and embarrassed to the point he considered quitting his job. He was eventually advised not to do so by supportive family, friends, customers – and even his Member of Parliament Indranee Rajah, who made a visit to his stall.

As she aptly put it, “We still do not sufficiently appreciate the impact that what we do or say can have on others, especially via social media. The consequences are often unintended, but by then it is too late. The old adage ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ still holds true in the internet age, even though the keyboard has replaced the pen. A sword cuts deep, but words can cut deeper. We need to have a care in what we say about others.(1)