Aussie expat fired after offensive Facebook rant

Marketing consultant unhappy over non-availability of Pokemon app vents anger on Singaporeans

Another foreigner has found himself facing a social media storm after insulting Singaporeans on Facebook - this time over a game.

Australian Sonny Truyen, whose age is not known, made offensive comments over the weekend, triggered by how mobile app Pokemon Go is not yet available here.

Yesterday, his employer, 99.co chief executive Darius Cheung, said Mr Truyen, who was "apologetic", had been dismissed. He said the company stood by its decision.

"He knew that he had made a mistake and regretted it, but what's done is done," Mr Cheung told The Straits Times. "We had to take appropriate action."

Mr Darius Cheung, chief executive of property search portal 99.co, had hired Mr Truyen as a marketing consultant just last week.
Mr Darius Cheung, chief executive of property search portal 99.co, had hired Mr Truyen as a marketing consultant just last week. PHOTO: ST FILE

The property search portal hired Mr Truyen a week ago as a marketing consultant specialising in search engine optimisation. But over the weekend, Mr Truyen made several expletive-laden comments in a public Facebook group.

It escalated into a war of words with Facebook user Adelene Kong, who told him to leave Singapore. Mr Truyen retorted that he was "here because of the lack of local talent" and said "locals can't even read".

Their conversation quickly went viral, with netizens unleashing a storm of vitriol against Mr Truyen and his former employer.

Mr Cheung said he was alerted to the post on Saturday, and decided to immediately terminate Mr Truyen's employment. In a long post on 99.co's blog yesterday, he apologised on behalf of the company.

"We pride ourselves to be a principled company that celebrates values like diversity and equality," he wrote. "We take responsibility for the public behaviour of any employee or consultant affiliated with us as a reflection of the company."

But he also stressed the importance of not discriminating against foreigners and "propagating messages of hate and division" based on isolated incidents such as this.

"For a small nation like Singapore, growth is the only way to survive and the truth is we need foreigners to join us as much as the foreigners enjoy becoming part of us," he said, noting increasing resentment towards foreigners.

"It is within our power as citizens and residents of Singapore to nip this in the bud and reverse the trend."

NO SECOND CHANCE

It was disappointing the lengths Singaporeans went to attack me and deny any chance of making amends for my actions. '' 

MR SONNY TRUYEN, in a statement to news website Mashable 

QUICK ACTION

We take responsibility for the public behaviour of any employee or consultant affiliated with us as a reflection of the company. '' 

MR DARIUS CHEUNG, chief executive of 99.co, on why the firm had to let Mr Truyen go.

This is not the first time that foreigners have been publicly shamed for offending Singaporeans online.

In 2014, Briton Anton Casey sparked a furore by calling public transport users "poor people", and left for Australia because of threats made against his family. In 2012, Chinese national Sun Xu faced disciplinary action by the National University of Singapore (NUS) after calling Singaporeans "dogs".

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said Singaporeans' witch hunt after the incident does not make them look good. "By all means, take on those opinions if you disagree with them," he said. "But I don't think the way to do it is to hound the person and threaten the employer."

NUS sociologist Paulin Straughan said the incident is a reminder that people should act with restraint online. "Sometimes, we let our guard down, especially when we are frustrated, not realising that we have no idea who will read it," she said.

In a statement to online news website Mashable, Mr Truyen wrote: "It was a **** move on my behalf and a very big error in judgment to negatively label an entire country over Pokemon. It was very wrong of me to rage like that."

But he added: "It was disappointing the lengths Singaporeans went to attack me and deny any chance of making amends for my actions."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2016, with the headline 'Aussie expat fired after offensive Facebook rant'. Print Edition | Subscribe