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Show, not tell, to raise awareness of autism

Dad shares photos online to let others know the challenges of raising a child with autism

ONE PHOTO AT A TIME

Whenever freelance photographer Bob Lee posts photos of his son on Facebook, the response he often gets is that 10-year-old Jun Le "looks rather normal".

Some people also tell Mr Lee that Jun Le must possess a "special talent", an extraordinary ability like photographic memory or musical prowess that sets him apart from other children.

The fact is Jun Le has moderate autism. And life, as the 41-year-old Mr Lee put it, isn't like the movies (think Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man).

April is Autism Awareness Month (#AutismAwarenessMonth), and Mr Lee's story on raising a child with autism is being shared on social media.

"These well-meaning words do not take away any pressures I face. On the contrary, they create more doubts in my mind," he said frankly in a photo essay published on Our Better World, a non-profit organisation which aims to tell inspiring stories digitally.

For the past five years, Mr Lee has been documenting his parenting journey in the only way he knows how - taking photos and sharing them online. The inspiration came after Jun Le threw a hysterical half-hour tantrum at a nature reserve as he could not understand why nor accept that one of the taps in the public toilet was faulty.

"I told myself that rather than feeling sad or angry, it's better to document and share this experience with my friends on Facebook," Mr Lee said.


This picture of his son Jun Le crying at a nature reserve is significant to Mr Bob Lee as it represents the difficulties in raising an autistic child that many people do not get to witness first-hand. PHOTO: BOB LEE

The picture of Jun Le crying is especially significant to Mr Lee, he said, as it represents the difficulties that many people do not get to witness first-hand. The posts have given him a chance to show and explain to others what challenges he and his wife face.

Jun Le was diagnosed when he was three. Both Mr Lee and his wife, a translator, quit their full-time jobs to spend more time with him. The flexible working hours allowed them to take Jun Le out, either for therapy to reduce his behavioural and speech issues, or on outings to expose him to different activities.


A screengrab from a video that was meant to show how easy it was to become a social influencer on Instagram, but ended up being slammed for promoting a message of materialism among young people.  PHOTO: FAVES ASIA

In turn, his son has also taught Mr Lee to be more thoughtful and to live life at a slower pace. In 2013, for instance, Mr Lee gave a TED talk on his experiences teaching photography to people who are visually impaired.

He hopes his photos will continue to raise awareness of the disorder, so that society will grow more accepting of children and adults with autism. "Autism is an invisible disability. We'll be very grateful if the public can give us some space while we go about calming down our children," he added.

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SOCIAL INFLUENCING GONE AWRY

The three-minute video was meant to showcase how easy it was to become a social influencer on Instagram. It starts off with a young girl gushing to her friend about how much she is "stalking" an online personality on the social platform.

"She has so many followers and sponsorships. I'm so jealous," she says. "I also want all the sponsorships." Her friend then introduces her to a service called Faves Asia, which promises to create visibility for users who want a greater social reach.

The video then cuts to two months later, and the girl is now shown eating meals at nice restaurants, getting her nails done and attending hip beach parties, all ostensibly sponsored due to her growing online popularity.

The fact that fake news publishers are still able to generate income is troubling, given that Internet titans like Google and Facebook continue to roll out initiatives to combat the spread of fabricated information. Google, for instance, is rolling out a new feature that places "Fact Check" tags on articles in its news results.

Six months later, she now has a boyfriend who chaperones her around in a Maserati, and fans waiting for her as she gets out of the car. Her boyfriend tells her to "remember to smile" as she heads off to a party filled with other supposed influencers.

The video went viral, but for all the wrong reasons. Netizens criticised the clip for being poorly executed and promoting a message of materialism among young people. Some social media influencers said the video painted the wrong image about their industry.

Prominent blogger Mr Brown poked fun at the video and promoted his own made-up Huat Ah! Sosher service, which will turn regular, insignificant people into "international globalist Sosher influencers". No social media influencers were injured in the making of this remixed video, he added, while promoting the hashtag #RememberToSmileOk.

Faves Asia, in turn, took down the video and posted a statement after the backlash. "It was never our intention for the video to paint an inaccurate representation of the industry," said a spokesman. "While we admit the team did attempt to exaggerate the storyline to make it more humorous, we would like to take this opportunity to apologise for any unintended misrepresentation."

The spokesman added that the company's main goal remains unchanged - to help people grow their social reach through its platform.

Faves Asia, launched officially last September, takes its cue from the early days of Facebook. It allows Instagrammers to appear on its site in a side-by-side comparison with other users, so long as they use the appropriate hashtags and register with the company.

Site visitors get to "vote" for those who use their social media accounts better in various categories like selfies, fashion, food and fitness. The spokesman, who believes netizens have overreacted to the video, said there have been 300,000 clicks to the voting system in the past nine months.

CRACKDOWN ON FAKE NEWS PUBLISHERS POINTLESS?

Has all the heat on fake news publishers amounted to nothing?

In a report published last Tuesday, Buzzfeed said that over 60 websites generating false reports are still earning revenue from advertisers like Google AdSense and Revcontent. In addition, the reporters also found several instances where fake news sites that were kicked out of one ad network simply moved on to another to continue earning income. A Gap ad, for instance, was served next to a fabricated story about the Pope.

A Google spokesman said the company reviewed the sites in question when queried, and immediately disabled ads on five out of the 17 sites as they were in violation of its policies. The ads on the remaining sites would continue to be shown as the site owners have declared the content as satirical.

The fact that fake news publishers are still able to generate income is troubling, given that Internet titans like Google and Facebook continue to roll out initiatives to combat the spread of fabricated information.

Google, for instance, is rolling out a new feature that places "Fact Check" tags on articles in its news results. Facebook has added tips for users to report shared stories as bogus. Fact-checking partners would also be employed to monitor news on its platforms.

But such moves might not be able to yield concrete results, so long as fake news continues to be lucrative, and users are not savvy enough to discern what content is authentic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 09, 2017, with the headline 'Show, not tell, to raise awareness of autism'. Print Edition | Subscribe