When stories take on a life of their own

Kidnapping rumours and a costly bin centre have netizens abuzz. Plus what Home means to seniors

Has there been a spate of attempted child kidnappings in Singapore?

One might think so, going by the dozens of "reports" that have popped up on social media and alternative sites this year alone.

The stories generally go like this: "Kidnappers", working in pairs or in groups, target young children who are in the care of preoccupied parents or helpers.

These criminals tail the minors through popular malls in Katong, Orchard Road and Chinatown, and grab them at the first opportunity.

Subsequently, depending on which site you visit, the children are either sold off to wealthy buyers or, in extreme cases, have their organs sold to the highest bidder.

Real incidents? Or fictional accounts to drive traffic to the sites?


  • POKEMON GO: The long-awaited augmented-reality game has finally arrived in Singapore. There is already a wealth of resources online about which monsters have the best attack or defence, but if you are looking for local information, a Reddit thread has sprung up here: http://str.sg/4TM8

    PATHLIGHT: The dinosaur purse carried by Mrs Lee Hsien Loong at the White House caught netizens' attention after it emerged that it was the work of an obscure but talented designer. Mr See Toh Sheng Jie, a 19-year-old student from Pathlight School, had the pleasure of seeing his pouch sell out after it made the news.

    TORRENTZ: The war against peer-to-peer file sharing continues to be waged online. Meta-search engine Torrentz.eu, a staple for many in the community, announced a shutdown last week. This news came after another stalwart - KickassTorrents - shuttered.

The latest example emerged last week. An article published on an alternative news site said a contributor's friend's niece was nearly snatched at VivoCity.

Surveillance footage supposedly revealed that a middle-aged woman had stalked the five-year-old near a supermarket in the mall, and tried dragging her away.

The story went on to say that the child's mother had been alert enough to scare off the "kidnapper". A police report was lodged.

What happened next: Netizens started their own sleuthing.

Hours later, another contributor, who took on the moniker Concerned Singaporean Parent, posted photos of the alleged "kidnapper".

Again, this was not first-hand information, as he or she was said to have received the photos of the "perpetrator" from a friend. The face of the "kidnapper" could clearly be seen in the photo.

The accompanying caption said: "I am a parent of two young kids and want all parents to be aware of and remember the face of the abductor in the picture."

While social media may be helpful when real crimes or incidents take place - for example, Facebook can help spread the word about a missing person - one should be careful about how it is being used.

What if innocent people are wrongly fingered and their faces blasted on the Internet? Unsubstantiated stories can also build a climate of fear.

Last week's incident even led to anxious parents demanding answers on the Singapore Police's Facebook page.

One Facebook user said: "We have not seen or heard any report from the police. I would hope to be informed if it does happen here."

The police, in a statement yesterday, said that they had thoroughly investigated the alleged kidnapping at VivoCity and have established that it was not a case of attempted kidnapping. They added that there have also been no other reports made to the police of kidnapping in other parts of Singapore. They also reminded the public not to "spread unsubstantiated information which may generate unnecessary public alarm and impede investigations".

They also said that there have not been any reported cases of kidnapping from lawful guardians involving children below the age of 16 in the past three years.

The police added some advice: Accompany your young children at all times, do not let them out of your sight and teach them not to follow strangers.


The National Arts Council (NAC) has been a bit of a buzzword the past two weeks. It was not for its work in promoting the arts, though, but in how it had featured in the recent Auditor-General's Report.

The issue was over the amount paid to a consultant for a centralised refuse-collection project in the Civic District.

The $410,000 it paid for a study on the project was nearly 90 per cent of the cost of actually building the centre, which was another $470,000.

The NAC explained that the project was a complicated one with many technical challenges to consider, as well as the need to ensure traffic nearby was smooth and the buildings were conserved.

It also acknowledged and accepted that the cost assessment for building the centre should have been more robust.

But netizens were not about to let go of the matter so easily.

A trash-talking Twitter account was created for "the world's first tweeting bin centre".

Photographer Tay Kay Chin came up with a satirical commemorative Lego set named The Singapore Rubbish Bin (470 pieces), which included surveillance cameras and shutters. This was the latest addition to his Lego Architecture Series of "structurally unsound structures".


Mr Low and his mother, Madam Tan, in a video produced by the Agency for Integrated Care. It features interviews with senior citizens who prefer to age at home, in familiar surroundings, rather than in a care facility. PHOTO: AGENCY FOR INTEGRATED CARE

National Day is just round the corner, which means that content creators are likely to play on the swell of national pride and popular theme songs to drive home their messages.

One government-related organisation - Agency for Integrated Care - has done just that. And the video is not too bad.

It features interviews with seniors who prefer to age at home, in familiar surroundings, rather than in a care facility. A soft rendition of the 1998 theme song Home aptly plays in the background.

One interviewee is Mr Low Siak Hong, 66, who is honouring his mother's wish to age at home by taking on the role of primary caregiver. His mother, 95-year-old Tan Soy Lek, has dementia.

"I love my mum," says Mr Low, "She is so kind. I cannot bear to put her in a nursing home. I'll still take care of her, no matter how."

The message conveyed in the video may sound cheesy, but it is certainly one that bears repeating.

Watch the video here: http://str.sg/4TMh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'What'sTrending When stories take on a life of their own'. Print Edition | Subscribe