What is Singapore’s favourite pastime? It could very well be witch hunting. A mostly disenfranchised nation fuelled by a self-righteous sense of (mob) justice, Singapore’s social media users are quick to call out and even doxx locals and foreigners alike, who have been filmed while not on their best behaviour.
Are these witch hunts motivated by an expectation of universal fairness, that our meritocratic society paints? While some netizens are busy flaming, stalking and calling-to-arms behind the safety of their keyboards, there many others too who try to assuage this modern day form of lynching. A video of an aggressive, potty-mouthed man, for example, would garner more views and interactions than any other piece of actual news; that’s what keeps us busy.
Whether or not they deserved their fates, SG Magazine takes a look back at the people Singaporeans named and shamed in 2019.
The year started off on a sobering note with the unfortunate death of Mediacorp starlet Aloysius Pang. Pang was crushed when the flick rammer of a Singapore Self-Propelled Howitzer (the barrel of a tank, basically) was lowered onto him unintentionally. The death of the 28-year-old was yet another National Service fatality among several in recent years, which sparked heated debates across the country and warranted a major press conference that involved the who’s who of the Singapore Armed Forces.
February: Go-Jek woman
The first significant viral video of 2019 involved a Go-Jek driver named Kamaruzzaman bin Abdul Latiff and a woman whom netizens eventually identified as “Jovina”. In a puzzling exchange, Kamaruzzaman’s in-car camera filmed Jovina, who was in turn filming him. She had accused him of adding unnecessary fees to her ride, along with kidnapping her, although Jovina would eventually realise that the car door had simply been on auto-lock. When she finally alights from the heated cab ride, she releases a remark that Singaporeans will never forget: “Is it because I’m Chinese?” Netizens rained fire and brimstone on Jovina, who then purportedly took an overseas trip to escape the heat.
March: Online wealth coaches
Frustrated with having their YouTube videos interrupted by these poorly shot videos promising quick riches, netizens began hunting down these self-proclaimed business gurus and even made several amusing memes of them. Among the most famous of them are the “Four Horsemen”: Benjamin, Dominic, Andrew and Imran (who also calls himself Benjamin). The joke is on us though, as this movement drove traffic for these wealth coaches. If it’s any indication of how well their business is doing, their advertisements are still widely visible across the web today. Imran aka Benjamin would not be the only famous Imran of 2019 though, as a viral photo of an extremely buff army recruit named Imran would set the online world buzzing and making memes again, later on in September.
April: Stuart Mills
Online sentiments reached fever pitch again in April when a video was circulated that showed inebriated advertising firm owner Stuart Mills punching a small-sized Singaporean security guard. The video immediately reignited the expats-versus-locals debate, during which Mills was even accused of being a ‘white supremacist’. Others stood up for Mills, vouching that he is a nice person (when not drinking) and is married to an Asian wife. For his actions, Mills was sentenced to a week in prison.
May: Tan Kin Lian
This guy almost became President of Singapore. Sometimes, we suspect that former Presidential hopeful Tan Kin Lian’s social media account is actually a satirical comedy platform. In this instance, social media users didn’t doxx anyone – they just sat back with their popcorn as the victim doxed himself. Famous for posting a video of him unable to find a way out of an MRT subway station and another one of him unable to open a simple package from e-currency app YouTrip, the former CEO of NTUC Income most famously (and unintentionally?) doxed himself in May 2019 when he posted his own NRIC number, email address, mobile phone number and date of birth online. Sacha Baron Cohen, will you take on the role of Tan Kin Lian in his eventual biopic?
June: DJ Tenashar
An unfortunate individual who has battled long and hard with drug abuse, DJ Tenashar spoke with local newspapers soon after her release from jail, during which she discussed starting a music-centric rehabilitation programme for drug addicts and becoming an anti-drug ambassador. However, within a month, Tenashar (real name: Debbie Valerie Tenashar Long) was found intoxicated and possibly hallucinating in a hotel in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and tested positive for drugs thereafter. Two days later, she was arrested again for breaking into a house in Singapore. The voluptuous DJ had previously been jailed for 18 months, after narcotics had been found in her luggage when she returned to Changi Airport from Amsterdam, and later on in her apartment in Robertson Quay too.
July: Dennis Chew
Local broadcaster Mediacorp, media agency Havas Worldwide and e-payment service NETS threw caution to the wind when they published an advertisement featuring local actor and DJ Dennis Chew with a browned face, meant to portray Singapore’s darker-skinned ethnicities. Paying no attention to the international brownface debacles that preceded this catastrophe, these media organisations let this print ad fly despite their numerous layers of bureaucracy and approval. The three organisations eventually issued respective apologies, while Dennis has kept a low profile since. However, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Grace Fu, would reopen this topic in December 2019, playing down the severity of the deed.
August: Preetipls and Subhas Nair
“Chinese people always out there f**king it up” was the catchphrase of August 2019. Written and performed by social media celebrities Preetipls and Subhas Nair, the sibling duo meant the lyrics of their rap as a satirical jab at the privilege that Singapore’s majority race enjoys. This was also in response to the aforementioned brownface incident. Understandably, many Singaporeans did not take too kindly to this explicit statement. Preeti and Subhas were let off with a conditional warning, issued a statement parodying Havas’s apology statement and Preetipls continues to enjoy strong social media traction to this day.
Another local musician who had Singaporeans ‘shook’ in August 2019 was Ramli Sarip, who belted out a polarising rendition of the national anthem during the National Day Parade. His divisive iteration hinted at how Elvis Presley and Glenn Danzig might have had a strong influence on the Singaporean singer-songwriter.
September: Terence Siow
An undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, Terence Siow was sentenced to probation for touching a woman inappropriately several times in Serangoon MRT station. A nation that frequently hears of sexual offences by local undergrads, this molest case got Singaporeans especially riled up when female District Judge Jasvender Kaur explained Siow’s light sentence. She remarked that Siow’s academic results showed that he had the “potential to excel in life”. An online petition was even set up on Change.org that has garnered around 90,000 signatures to-date. At the climax of this debate, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had to persuade the public from “casting aspersions” on the judge. Siow has not been heard of since the intense few weeks of online protests and doxxing.
Local-foreigner tensions were sparked once again when a video of Ramesh Erramalli berating his condominium’s security guard, Steven Heng, spread like wildfire. In the video, Erramalli launches into a tirade after Heng informs him that his guests need to pay $10 for parking in the condominium after 11pm. Among the verbal abuse, Erramalli hurls elitist remarks that struck a chord with countless members of Singapore’s financially disparate. Although the name ‘Ramesh’ will forever evoke this poignant incident in Singaporeans’ minds, Erramalli seems to have learned his lesson – his encounters with Heng around his condominium and at his court hearing were reported to be sombre and apologetic.
November: Singapore Social
In a post-television era when no one cares about beauty pageants anymore, Miss Singapore International 2019 Charlotte Chia yielded laughter and mockery when she drank from the cleansing pool of a Japanese shrine. However, Chia would have the last laugh, as Japanophiles came to her defence, stating that drinking from the fountain of a Japanese temple or shrine is indeed part of traditional cleansing rituals.
Most significantly, Singapore’s favourite conversation topic this past November was Singapore Social, a reality TV series on Netflix that depicts young Singaporeans as struggling modernists trapped in traditional households. When Singaporeans saw these inaccurate and stereotypical portrayals of themselves, the social media slamming and parody-making went through the roof. The artificial setups and inane banter of the show didn’t help either. Arguments between online critics (dismissed as ‘jealous haters’) and friends of the cast ensued, while neither side was willing to accept Singapore Social for what it is – trashy reality TV.
December: Joseph Schooling
One of Singapore’s most beloved athletes, Joseph Schooling became the unfortunate victim of fat-shaming when a thicc photo of him went viral. Schooling had bulked on fat and muscle during his off season, which his coach has said actually gives him a more powerful form and helps in the sport, but this went over the heads of numerous critics, some of whom might have been the same people who lauded him when he brought home Singapore’s first-ever Olympic medal in swimming.
Alas, any topic that has the public hot and bothered eventually fizzles out just like that – the online mobs and social justice zealots revert to their mundane lives like clockwork, until a WhatsApp chat group or Facebook post brings the next atrocity to their attention.
When it came to the hottest news of 2019, graphic scenes and poor manners caught on camera (PMD riders sure took a beating too) did better than any other major headlines. While calls for discretion and empathy have been on a gradual incline, amid waves of keyboard warrior-ing, it’s anyone’s guess whether 2020 will be a year of more murders-by-social-media or a year of more understanding and tolerance. For all our sakes, we sure hope it’s the latter.