Online pleas for aid: Govt may step in with details, says Tan Chuan-Jin

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin at his office.
Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin at his office. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

It will set record straight if those seeking help online give misleading or one-sided accounts

The authorities will be stepping in earlier to set the record straight - including by disseminating information about cases - should individuals give what they deem misleading or one-sided accounts when appealing for donations online.

"We may desensitise the information, perhaps anonymise it somewhat, without going into too many details, to help the public understand the context," said Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

This comes at a time when individual appeals online, especially those with heartrending circumstances, have managed to garner six-figure sums in donations.

In April, a single mother with Stage 4 ovarian cancer raised $771,962 from 7,419 people for her medical bills. That month, a daughter's plea for donations to medically evacuate her father from Japan, where he had a heart attack, raised $239,047 from 3,029 people. Both appeals were made on crowdfunding website Give.asia.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) stepped in to clarify facts when a 20-year-old woman shared on Give.asia in May about having to be the breadwinner for 11 family members, as her cancer-stricken father could work only part-time as a security guard, saying a social worker provided her family with only dry rations. MSF said it had been assisting the family for 51/2 years, and they also get ComCare and other aid.

In January, MSF also made public details of aid given to a homeless man seen at a Bugis fast-food outlet when an article by website All Singapore Stuff claimed he was denied aid by Social Service Office staff and other agencies.

 
 
 

Mr Tan said his ministry has the right to come out and highlight details when individuals misrepresent and exploit a situation, or when public officers are attacked online for doing their duty, such as removing children from abusive homes. Sometimes, there are also questions about whether donated funds are used properly.

"We're also evolving the way in which we want to approach this... You will see more contestation on this front, a lot more issues being played up. The encouraging thing is Singaporeans are very generous and do want to step forward and help. So in a way, it's a good problem," said Mr Tan.

Still, he acknowledged a balance must be struck to protect a person's privacy. "We are also very wary because some of this is information that's confidential," he said.

Ms Julia Lee, senior director of social work and programme development at Touch Community Services, said it is useful for the Government to clarify any misrepresentation. She added: "Ultimately, netizens can learn to be more discerning and do more research before they respond to the appeals. Perhaps concerned members of the public can be directed to an agency or call in to seek verification of the legitimacy of the story."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline 'Online pleas for aid: Govt may step in with details'. Print Edition | Subscribe