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Netizens rise to the defence of national servicemen

Facebook gets tough on misleading stories, while survey claims Instagram is bad for health

THE 'PRICE' OF PAMPERING

The first salvo was fired last Tuesday, when a netizen who went by the name of Elaine, called for Singaporean parents to stop "pampering" their sons who were in national service.

"Let them be independent," Elaine said on an alternative news site. The cause of her consternation was the traffic jams in Pasir Ris every Friday night as parents congregate to pick up their full-time national servicemen (NSF) children.

"Are these boys paralysed? Or (do they) need to be spoon-fed?" she added. "(The NSFs) are enjoying their conveniences at the expense of innocent motorists. I hope the Defence Ministry takes action against this."

Almost immediately, comments defending the NSFs started pouring in. Some said the post was fabricated to score page views by touching on a sensitive topic.

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But the majority of people reacting were sympathetic to the sacrifices made by the boys in green.

A common theme was that in the eyes of some members of the public, the NSFs could do no right.

"People complain about them being smelly when they take the MRT or bus, and complain again when their parents pick them up. What do they expect? Route march home ah?" said one Facebook user.

But the post that garnered the most attention was a rebuttal by Facebook user Tavis Tan last Wednesday, which got about 2,000 likes, comments and shares.


Screenshot of Elaine's post criticising the national servicemen. But the majority of people who reacted defended the boys in green, including Facebook user Tavis Tan, whose rebuttal resounded with 2,000 others. PHOTO: COURTESY OF TAVIS TAN

His pointed message read: "Sorry for being an inconvenience. Sorry for serving (the army). Sorry my parents care for me… and pick me up so I can get home as soon as possible. Lastly, I'm sorry my entire week in camp doesn't match up to the 15 minutes you take to get out of traffic, because your time is more important than all of the NSFs'."

Tan goes on to speak about the privilege of living in Singapore, where those in uniform, whatever the vocation, work hard to protect the Republic's interest.

"We sacrifice what we can sacrifice today so that we won't have to sacrifice what we cannot sacrifice tomorrow," he added.

The post obviously struck a chord with many Internet users, who are fed up with the complaints rife on social media about NSFs, such as taking up seats on public transport they aren't entitled to.

The key question is this: Should those in uniform be held to a higher standard of conduct in public than members of the public?

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The answer is a resounding "yes", because like it or not, these men and women do represent the discipline that embodies the defence forces that will need to be called upon to protect Singapore's shores when threats arise.

But it is also important for those with a penchant for complaining to remember that NSFs do not have it easy, having to train hard and live apart from their loved ones for extended periods of time.

Perhaps, rather than taking 15 minutes to craft a nasty message about a traffic inconvenience, "Elaine" should try to rearrange her schedule so she does not get caught in the said jam.

FACEBOOK V CLICKBAIT

The tech giant is taking its fight against misleading, sensational and "spammy" stories to the next level.

In a blog post last Wednesday, Facebook said it is "working to determine what stories might have clickbait headlines so we can show them less often".

This is part of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's vision of an "informed community", in which he asked if Internet users were "building a world we all want".

The algorithm tweaks are threefold. Firstly, it will downgrade individual posts that contain clickbait headlines that withhold and exaggerate information to get people to click through to a particular site. This complements an earlier move in which Facebook targeted pages which say things like "You'll never believe what this person did to earn $5,000 a day" or "Doctors hate her for losing 10kg in three weeks".

Secondly, Facebook is looking at refining its algorithm to look out for both misleading headlines, and ones that withhold information as a teaser, but usually end in a user's disappointment.

The last measure is that Facebook is looking to incorporate more languages in this initiative.

Now, Facebook is able to detect and push down headlines in German, Arabic, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and English.

The aggressive measures are a testament to the seriousness with which Facebook is viewing and tackling the problem of fake news.

INSTAGRAM BAD FOR MENTAL HEALTH?

Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. And the worst offender - in terms of detrimental effects on the mental health of youth - is Instagram, according to a report published by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) in Britain.

The study surveyed close to 1,500 young people aged between 14 and 24 in the first few months of this year. The respondents were asked to score each social media site on well-being issues, including anxiety, depression, loneliness, sleep, bullying and if they feared "missing out" (also known as FoMo).

Instagram, generally a platform to showcase the fashionable and wealthy and pictures of delicious food, was listed as having the most negative effect. It apparently harmed perceptions of body image, increased the fear of missing out and had a detrimental effect on sleep.

The second worst, the study said, was Snapchat, a similar platform.

"Both platforms are very image-focused and... they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people," Ms Shirley Cramer, RSPH's chief executive, told The Independent.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline 'Netizens rise to the defence of national servicemen'. Print Edition | Subscribe