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Sex-in-small-space comment gets a lot of online space

Netizens have field day with minister's candid comeback to couples who want a flat before having babies

'DAMNED IF YOU DO OR DON'T'

It was a statement that launched a thousand memes: "You need a very small space to have sex."

The words, spoken by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, were meant to encourage a discussion - particularly among young Singaporeans - about marriage and parenthood.

In an opinion piece which accompanied a package of stories on Wednesday, she said: "Millennial Singaporeans, who number nearly a million, are not about to start families because someone exhorts them to. If and when they decide to, it will likely be because they regard marriage and parenthood to be achievable, enjoyable and celebrated."

The stories, about the Government's strategy to tackle Singapore's falling birth rate, were posted on ST's Facebook page.

But the sound bite which gained the most traction by far was her feisty rejoinder to a question on whether young people are not getting their flats early enough to have children.

Mr Kenneth Bone had initially intended to wear an olive-coloured suit, but donned a red fleece sweater when he split his trousers while getting into his car. His earnest demeanour at a United States presidential debate has made him an Internet hit.
Mr Kenneth Bone had initially intended to wear an olive-coloured suit, but donned a red fleece sweater when he split his trousers while getting into his car. His earnest demeanour at a United States presidential debate has made him an Internet hit. PHOTO: KENNETH BONE

  • NOTABLE TRENDS

    #THAILAND: There was an outpouring of grief on social media when Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch, died at 88 last Thursday. The other trending hashtag was #RIPKingBhumibol.

    NATHAN HARTONO: Nathan Hartono, the first Singaporean to reach the final of the immensely popular Sing! China show, came home last Sunday. Videos of his performances have been doing well on YouTube.

    #PPAPCHALLENGE: Local actor Chen Tianwen does a spoof of the viral video PPAP (Pen Pineapple Apple Pen), originally created by Japanese comedian Daimaou Kosaka. Chen's version was produced by The Celebrity Agency.

"You need a very small space to have sex," said the mother of three candidly. She also said that the Singaporean love story was vastly different from that in countries in the West. "In our case, man meets woman, man falls in love with woman, man proposes to woman, they then plan the wedding and do the house. In France, in the UK, in the Nordic countries, man meets woman, tonight they can make a baby already."

Within a day, the Facebook post had reached more than 1.5 million users and garnered more than 12,000 likes, comments and shares.

The top comment, which got more than 2,300 likes, likened her to United States presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The second-most liked comment said she had missed the point.

"It is not where to have sex. To have a house before a child is correct," said Facebook user Jo-ann Tan. "Having a flat means that the young couples are financially sound before they move on to the next stage of life. Is she expecting more couples to stay in the park?"

In an ST online poll taken by more than 23,000 respondents, 92 per cent agreed the flat came first.

The hashtag #SexInSmallSpaces started trending. So did memes around her comments, and lively discussions sprouted on alternative news sites.

While netizens had a field day, a parallel thread emerged about how one sometimes cannot win: Local politicians are often criticised for being too cookie-cutter, yet the ones who speak candidly risk ridicule.

"Singaporeans love to complain about everything. There's nothing wrong with what she said, it's just a matter of perspective," said Facebook user Mark Tay.

On her personal Facebook page, Mrs Teo was seen having to reply to users regarding her comments late into the night - a sure sign that she had managed to spark a discussion about a hot topic.

TRUMP VERSUS CLINTON, KARAOKE-STYLE

It was a serious debate between the two main contenders for the White House, but trust netizens to have some fun. A karaoke version has become a hit on the Internet.

The minute-long video shows Mrs Hillary Clinton and Mr Trump "singing" to each other to a 1992 Cantonese hit, Miss Each Other In The Wind And Rain. Cleverly edited by Hong Kong-based content creator Jack Sze a day after the debate, the hilarious video shows the two nominees glancing at each other wistfully in time with the lyrics of the love song. It has had more than a million views.

Mr Sze's video is one of a long line of spoofs of the US elections so far.

One video shows the duelling candidates singing the duet, The Time of My Life, from the 1987 film Dirty Dancing, while another features actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and others putting the debate into song as well.

Entertainment outlet Buzzfeed even managed to synchronise parts of Mr Trump's speech into Backstreet Boys' hit, As Long As You Love Me.

But it's not just the candidates who made waves online - a member of the audience did too.

Sporting a red fleece sweater, a neat moustache and spectacles, Mr Kenneth Bone rose to ask a question about energy policy. But Twitter erupted even before he had finished the question, and Mr Bone and his earnest demeanour soon became an Internet hit. It turned out that he had initially intended to wear an olive-coloured suit, but donned the sweater when he split his trousers while getting into his car.

Not all that surprisingly, given the random and unpredictable nature of what fires the public imagination, #KenBoneFacts became one of the top hashtags during the debate.

Costume-makers started making Ken Bone costumes for Halloween, while some US restaurants produced Bone-inspired menus.

Mr Bone was quick to capitalise on his instant fame. Besides starring in his own Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, he started selling official merchandise, designating a portion of the proceeds to fighting homelessness in Missouri. But with some less-than-salutary details emerging about his past, Mr Bone may be wishing he had thicker skin.

HOW MUCH DOES FACEBOOK KNOW ABOUT YOU?

You might be able to get a sense of it with a browser tool built by independent news site ProPublica.

Three journalists, who spent a year investigating the algorithms, said the social media giant holds a "comprehensive set of dossiers on its more than two billion members". Facebook, they said, keeps a log of every post liked, photo tagged, pages visited via the platform, shares and comments, among other actions.

All this data is then used to offer marketers a chance to target ads at increasingly specific groups of people. ProPublica says Facebook offers advertisers more than 1,300 categories for ad targeting.

The tool works only with the Chrome Web browser. You can find it at http://str.sg/4fkh

The article is the third in a four-part investigative piece dubbed Breaking The Black Box.

The other instalments deal with pricing, or how algorithms determine how much Web visitors pay for a service when they visit a site, and machine-learning, or how tech companies like Google, Amazon and Spotify leverage on machine-learning - in which algorithms are used to make predictions based on data - to better predict customers' preferences.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 16, 2016, with the headline 'Sex-in-small-space comment gets a lot of online space'. Print Edition | Subscribe