When memes cross the line, Singapore's top searches this year and an Instagram glitch
CHOOSING TO BE KIND
Social media can often be, well, plain unsociable.
Possibly every second, someone shares a funny meme without sparing a thought for how the feelings of the people being depicted may be wounded.
The issue was brought into sharp focus last Sunday when anti-cyber bullying activist Lizzie Velasquez decided to take a stand.
She posted a photo on Facebook, converted into a meme, of herself standing next to a tree, with text that read: "Michael said he would meet me behind this tree for a bit of fun. He's running late, would someone please tag him and tell him I'm still waiting?"
The "joke" here was that 27-year-old Velasquez, who suffers from various conditions that affect her appearance, is so painfully thin and unattractive that no one would want "a bit of fun" with her.
Unfortunately, that would pass as humour in some Internet circles.
In her post, which has attracted more than 235,000 likes, comments and shares, Velasquez says she is not speaking up as a victim, but as someone who chooses to use her voice to remind others that innocent people are affected when their photos are used in a mean-spirited way.
"I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. No matter what we look like or what size we are, at the end of the day we are all human," she said in her post of the incident.
"I ask that you keep that in mind the next time you see a viral meme of a random stranger."
The post drew hundreds of comments.
Among them was a reply from Velasquez's mother Rita, who said the image hurt her "beyond words", but she stands with her daughter to spread love instead.
#ROGUEONE: The latest instalment of the epic American space opera that is Star Wars was one of the top Twitter searches last week. The response to the movie has been largely positive.
#SUPERMARIORUN: The game is exclusive to the Apple iOS for now. Twitter users were so excited about the release that they started sharing the screenshot of the game's landing page in the app store.
RUNNING MAN: The South Korean variety show that is popular in Singapore will end in February next year, with several stars booted out of the show without prior notice.
Another reply came from Facebook user Michael Mendieta, who said: "Which tree do I find (sic) Lizzie so I can give her a huge hug?"
Velasquez is no stranger to being at the receiving end of mean comments and jokes.
In 2006, when she was 17, a YouTube video labelled her as the "world's ugliest woman".
People she had never met called her a monster, asked her to go kill herself and said her parents should have aborted her.
Instead of letting these devastate her, she has become a motivational speaker and author.
In 2013, she gave a talk on how she created her own definitions of beauty and happiness.
She was also featured in a 2015 documentary about her journey from cyber bullying victim to anti-bullying activist.
Velasquez's story exposed a long line of memes targeted at those deemed by the online mob to be ugly or undesirably different.
Earlier this month, even the picture of a terminally ill three-year-old toddler, Grayson Smith, was turned into a meme.
Grayson was born with 22 birth anomalies and is fighting two terminal illnesses.
A photo of him was taken from a Facebook page set up by his parents and captioned: "That face you make when your parents are actually cousins."
When told of the image being spread, Grayson's mother, Mrs Jenny Smith, said: "I just can't believe that there are people out there who would use a child, especially anyone who has been ruled terminally disabled like that. It really just hit home with me."
But instead of deleting her son's Facebook page, she decided to reach out to the other pages spreading the meme with requests that they take down the offending image.
Some complied while others ignored her.
She has also tried to come up with her own memes featuring Grayson and positive captions.
One reads: "That face you make when you know you are loved."
The episode also drew an overwhelming show of support from strangers, who flocked to Grayson's crowdfunding page to help raise funds for his treatments.
"We have to stick together and fight back. We're not the first family that's been through this and we're not going to be the last," Mrs Smith told CBS News.
GOOGLE'S TOP SEARCHES
The tech giant has released its list of the top searches by Singaporeans this year.
The top spot went to Pokemon Go, a free-to-play, location-based augmented reality game.
This was followed closely by swim king Joseph Schooling, whose popularity surged when he won the Olympic gold medal for the 100m butterfly at the Rio Olympics.
Other popular searches this year included "PSI Singapore" during a spell of haze; Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who suffered a stroke in May; and former president S R Nathan, who died in August.
The top trending TV show, according to Google, was the Korean drama Descendants Of The Sun, while the top song was Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen by Japanese comedian Piko-Taro.
The top app, among strong contenders like location-based apps like Grab and Waze, was Prisma, a free photo-editing app.
The little red dot we call home found itself literally going places last week when Instagrammers realised they could boost their posts by tagging their location as "Singapore, Singapore", no matter where they really were.
The glitch was discovered when several social media stars like Dan Bilzerian, Logan Paul and Matthew Espinosa started tagging their posts that way, even though they were not remotely near the Republic.
This meant that their posts would end up on the coveted Explore page on the photo-sharing app, which enabled them to reach new users.
After gaining traction on their posts, the account holders would remove the location tag and the 'likes' on the post remained.
While it is unclear how the hack works, it apparently increased the chance of gaining more 'likes'.
Instagram confirmed to the BBC the existence of this "Singapore boost" and said it has since been fixed.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 18, 2016, with the headline 'Speaking up against cyber bullying'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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