Online vigilantism is unacceptable

While I do not condone Mr Syn Kok Meng's apparent refusal to give up his reserved seat on an MRT train to a mother and her baby, Ms Celine Chia's act of publicly shaming him by uploading his picture and her post of the altercation on Facebook is tantamount to cyber-bullying ("I was unwell, says commuter in seat spat"; last Saturday).

As observers, we must exercise restraint by viewing an incident through a more objective, nuanced lens and not be so hasty in passing judgment or crucifying someone prima facie.

As observers, we also need to be reminded that while someone may appear manifestly to be able-bodied, they could possibly have ailments not immediately visible to the eye that necessitate that they not exert themselves unnecessarily.

Online vigilantism is unacceptable.

Social media has the egregious power of blowing things out of proportion and triggering a tsunami of rancour, fuelled by a multitude of people who weren't even at the scene to be fully cognisant of what had transpired.

This can result in a target being victimised to the extent that they are issued death threats, their family members are dragged into the fracas, they are dismissed by their employers due to the negative publicity or, in the worst-case scenario, they are browbeaten into fleeing the country in order to escape the unrelenting persecution.

Recent casualties such as Mr Anton Casey and Ms Amy Cheong are a case in point.

I hope netizens will be less quick on the draw in humiliating others.

Admonish people who refuse to give up their seats on the train if need be, and leave it at that.

Publicly shaming someone online goes beyond the bounds of common decency, and borders on malice.

Marietta Koh (Mrs)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'Online vigilantism is unacceptable'. Print Edition | Subscribe