The Sunday Times says

Milking sympathy of kind netizens

The stimulating nature of social media and the ease with which money can change hands online have helped to make it a "a marketplace for evoking, feeling, displaying, and profiting off the gooey human emotion of empathy", as an American commentator observed. This is evident here too, as manifested by online appeals for donations which have elicited generous responses running into six figures.

The reach of the crowdfunding website is an indication of how powerful the new media of charity can be. Its activism has merit when it provides deserving cases with a helping hand. Also laudable is the responsiveness of a caring public to financial distress caused by catastrophic illnesses or major accidents.

However, it is the very receptivity of Singaporeans to calls for help that can result in the abuse of their charitable instincts. Hence, it is only right for the authorities to step in earlier to set the record straight, should individuals give what an independent observer would deem misleading or one-sided accounts when appealing for donations online. State agencies have a legitimate interest in placing before the public what they have done to help needy people who choose to bare their deprivation online. Social service organisations should do the same, without breaching any undertakings of confidentiality. Silence would give the impression that the charitable work undertaken here is deficient in some respects.

Social organisations have a duty to shield donors from those making unverified claims which might be untrue in some cases. It would not be right, for example, to allow those with ample means to milk public generosity. If donors are collectively defrauded of the immense social worth of their charity dollar, such abuse over time would destroy public trust to the point where genuine appeals for help could go unheard.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline 'Milking sympathy of kind netizens'. Print Edition | Subscribe