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Bike vandals are shooting themselves in the foot

Shared videos make it easier to nab culprits; for anxiety-free interaction, get Binky app

The fight against those who misuse bicycles deployed in bike-sharing schemes has found help from an unlikely source - the culprits themselves.

Not only do they intentionally vandalise property, but also they take it upon themselves to kick it up a notch by filming the process.

After all, what bragging rights do you have if there's no proof that you did it?

Think back on the scores of senseless challenges on social media recently.

Last year, the fire spray challenge, where teens recorded their reactions after creating streams of fire using aerosols and lighters, led to several injuries.

In recent months, there has been a rash of photos and videos of teens throwing hapless bicycles meant for public use against the wall and on the floor, stomping on them, leaving them in far-flung places or stealing and repainting them in custom colours. Some do it purely out of greed or malice, but most, I suspect, do it to get their 15 minutes of online fame.

This step of recording the act has made it a lot easier for the bike companies and law enforcement authorities to catch up with the perpetrators.

Last Thursday, a video of a 14-year-old boy brazenly flinging an ofo bike off a high-rise block in Whampoa made its rounds on social media.


Some teens have been misusing bicycles meant for bike-sharing schemes - and getting their acts recorded. PHOTO: TWITTER VIDEO SCREENGRAB 

The short clip contained footage of the boy's face. He was arrested on the same day for his action, and could be "involved in a case of rash act", said the police.

Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, said social media could be a powerful tool in calling out bad behaviour in bike-sharing schemes.

Hopefully, these teens will continue to film themselves committing such acts, if they choose to destroy what isn't theirs.

That way, they can gain the notoriety they crave, and possibly get their just deserts too.

DO WHATEVER YOU WANT IN BINKY - NO ONE WILL SEE IT

Think of it as a fidget spinner for social media apps.

It looks like a social media app and behaves like one, but doesn't necessarily add anything of value to your life.

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The app in question is Binky (www.binky.rocks), and it is touted as the "best way to spend time on your phone".

Consider this: A recent survey of 1,500 young people by the Royal Society for Public Health in Britain found that social media apps such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat stoked anxiety, depression and poor sleep.

Binky (whose icon is a baby pacifier) would be the antithesis of these platforms.

Currently available only on Apple's iOS, the app boasts an infinite feed of random things (called "banks") to look at.

Wrestlers, scones, raccoons and tantalising photographs of chutney are just some of the images on offer.

You can "like" a post, share it (otherwise known as "re-binking") and comment on it.

Comments are auto-generated as you type in random letters, and will emerge as trite nonsense and overused hashtags such as #truelove, #sorrynotsorry and #nofilter.

Binky's unique selling point is that nothing you do on the app actually matters.

Every interaction is a false action. Your friends won't see it, it doesn't get recorded anywhere and your "likes" don't matter to anyone, not even you.

"Binky is just as meaningless as other social media apps, but it's upfront about it," app creator Dan Kurtz told the US' National Public Radio. "But it doesn't give you any of the anxiety that you get from scrolling through actual content."

Mr Kurtz revealed that the impetus to create Binky arose after he scrolled through his social media feeds and realised he did not remember anything he had just read.

"Does that mean that nothing I'm seeing on Facebook actually matters? If I replaced all the stuff that I'm seeing with just random photos of chairs and condiments, would that be just as compelling?

"It turns out the answer is yes," he said candidly.

The Atlantic's contributing editor Ian Bogost even went as far as to posit that Binky could help cure the ills of smartphone compulsion.

"Binky," he said, "offers all the pleasure of tapping, scrolling, liking, and commenting without any of the burden of meaning."

An Android version is in the works, Mr Kurtz disclosed, as soon as he figures out how to create it within the operating system.

WELCOME TO THE CLICK FARM

The business of generating fake page views and online engagement is a lucrative one, and not one that is easily found out.


Thai police raiding a rented home last Monday and arresting three Chinese nationals for running a “click farm”. It controlled tens of thousands of fake social media
accounts programmed to “like” pages or posts, using close to 500 iPhones wired to computer monitors and placed on metal racks. PHOTO: YOUTUBE SCREENGRAB

Thai police got a lucky break last Monday when they raided a rented home near the Cambodian border and arrested three Chinese nationals who were running a "click farm".

A "click farm" typically controls tens of thousands of fake social media accounts that can be programmed to "like" pages or posts, and is a major problem for many social media platforms.

Using close to 500 iPhones placed on metal racks and wired to computer monitors, and nearly 400,000 SIM cards, the men told the authorities that they were hired by Chinese companies to boost "likes" for a number of products, including herbal medicines and candy, on WeChat - China's largest social network.

The men were each paid about $6,000 a month, according to reports.

Tech giants face an uphill battle and have to constantly tweak their algorithms to weed out fake traffic and users.

But the problem persists as key "click farm" hubs continue to operate, particularly in countries such as India, the Philippines and Indonesia, where tech penetration might be high but wages are low.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'Bike vandals are shooting themselves in the foot'. Print Edition | Subscribe