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Dealing with thorny social issues

Two projects tackle racism and sexism, while a streaming service strikes gold with funding

TACKLING RACISM, A CONVERSATION AT A TIME

Racism is a thorny issue to tackle.

But, one couple are attempting to create awareness and encourage frank discussions after coming across racist attitudes in the comments section of a Facebook post.

Mr Lewis Liu, 31, and Ms Liyi Chan, 29, have started a group called More Than Just, which will hold a series of dialogues for strangers to meet face to face and speak up on these issues, starting later this month.

What drove Mr Liu to action was a story published in October last year on The Middle Ground which focused on landlords who discriminate against certain races in the rental market.

 More Than Just is a group started by a Singaporean couple with the aim to bring people together to discuss race and racism here. More than 100 people have signed up so far for the sessions.
Above: More Than Just is a group started by a Singaporean couple with the aim to bring people together to discuss race and racism here. More than 100 people have signed up so far for the sessions. PHOTO: LEWIS LIU

A number of property listings, for instance, would ask certain races not to bother viewing the apartment as they would not be considered.

On the Facebook post of the report, one user said: "When your tenants trash your apartment and other landlords share similar experiences with their tenants of (a) particular race or nationality, is that considered racism or hedging your risks and protecting the value of your property?"

Another user replied: "That is considered racism. You might think the number of bad experiences are a lot but that's down to self-selection. Nobody talks about the good experiences."

Popular video streaming service Bigo Live allows users to send each other virtual gifts such as hearts and tiaras. The firm is set to expand after raising more than $250 million in total to date.
Popular video streaming service Bigo Live allows users to send each other virtual gifts such as hearts and tiaras. The firm is set to expand after raising more than $250 million in total to date. PHOTO: BIGO LIVE

Mr Liu said that two issues struck him at the time.

The first was the possible tension between being inclusive versus being pragmatic, "two very Singaporean concepts we consider closely tied to our national identity", he told The Sunday Times.

The second problem was that it seemed to him that people were speaking, but not listening to each other. "The various camps were airing their views from their echo chambers. It was not apparent that any side was reconsidering their position after hearing a different opinion," he added.

Mr Liu, a consultant, and his wife, who runs a social enterprise called Indie Mamashop, decided to take matters into their own hands by organising the series of dialogues.

"I enjoy facilitating difficult civil discussions, and my wife thinks society needs a better mode of two-way communication. We think it's worth a shot," he said.

So far, more than 100 people have signed up for the free sessions (http://www.morethanjust.sg) which provides dinner.

All they need to do is to adhere to simple rules: Listen with intent, disagree respectfully and learn from each other.

BIGO LIVE GETS BIGGER

The live streaming platform has struck gold with its latest series of funding.

In a statement released last Wednesday, Bigo Live says it has raised a total of US$180 million (S$254 million) cumulatively to date.

Not bad for a platform that started in March last year.

Bigo Live is a popular streaming service that allows any user to broadcast what they are up to to other users via live video.

Users can send gifts such as virtual lollipops, hearts and tiaras to the broadcaster.

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These gifts are paid for with "diamonds" which are purchased with cash ($1 gets you 42 diamonds). A virtual flower, for instance, costs one diamond, while a treasure box would set users back 5,000 diamonds.

The broadcasters can then turn these rewards into beans, which can either be exchanged for diamonds or cashed out in real dollars.

So far, the service has attracted 70 million registered users worldwide, with close to 30 million monthly active users spending over 40 minutes on the app daily.

In Singapore, there are more than 500,000 registered users, and more than 200,000 monthly active users, a spokesman said.

The streaming service received flak last year for several incidents of sexually explicit content, but it seems to have addressed the issue.

Users are warned when they enter a stream not to use vulgarities, smoke or be sexually explicit. Otherwise, they would be banned.

A spokesman said that there are now altogether six reminders and filters in place to ensure explicit content is kept in check.

This includes a team of censors who inspect the streams, leveraging on artificial intelligence to scan for unwanted content and allowing other users to report a broadcaster for a ban.

Bigo Live has also introduced new features such as a music channel, which allows selected broadcasters to perform, in order to nudge content creators in the right direction.

The company, founded by Chinese video-streaming website YY Inc chief David Li, also looks set to expand its user base aggressively.

The statement said that it plans to focus on growing its number of users in South America, North America, Europe, Russia and the Middle East.

SURVIVING IN THE WORKPLACE AS A WOMAN

Does sexism exist in your workplace?

Writer Martin R. Schneider related his experience of an e-mail mix-up in a series of tweets that have gone viral.

Mr Schneider said that the episode took place when he had been supervising his co-worker, Ms Nicole Hallberg, at an employment service firm some time earlier.

A common complaint his boss had was that Ms Hallberg always took too long to get work done, he said.

One day, he noticed that a client was behaving strangely. "Rude, dismissive, ignoring my questions," said Mr Schneider.

He soon realised that it might be because he had accidentally been signing off as Ms Hallberg as they shared the same mailbox.

His curiosity piqued, Mr Schneider then started signing off with his own name, telling the client that he had taken over the project.

"Immediate improvement," he said. "Positive reception, thanking me for suggestions, responds promptly, saying 'great questions!' Became a model client."

Mr Schneider and Ms Hallberg then embarked on a social experiment where they switched names for two weeks to test this discovery.

"Everything I asked or suggested was questioned. Clients were condescending. One asked if I was single," he said. "Nicole had the most productive week of her career."

Mr Schneider said that he realised why Ms Hallberg took longer to work with clients was because of the time spent trying to convince them she knew what she was doing.

The two have since left the company.

In a blog post on Medium, Ms Hallberg said: "I quit and started my own business, writing blog posts and Web copy as a freelancer. In an office of one, I can finally put my walls down."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 12, 2017, with the headline 'Dealing with thorny social issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe