Cyberspace abuzz with Zika news and unproven claims

Ugly Singaporeans show up on Bigo Live and in bus incident


Lemongrass, deet, Off - anti-mozzie remedies were the buzz words on Google last week after news broke that Zika is being locally transmitted in Singapore.

"Zika symptoms", "How is Zika transmitted", and "Zika Punggol" are top Zika-related queries Singaporeans have been going online for, says Google.

All in, there have been more than 25,000 searches on the topic on its search engine this past week.

And since Aug 27, when it was reported that a Malaysian woman in Aljunied had been infected, the hashtag #Zika on Twitter has pulled almost 16,000 messages.

The Straits Times’ graphics team has produced an in-depth look at the key Zika clusters and how events unfolded during the week. PHOTO: SPH

A broadcast of a primary school pupil showing off her dance moves to her followers on the live-streaming app Bigo Live attracted many remarks that appeared to be racist. PHOTO: BIGO LIVE


  • #PRAYFORPMLEE: It has been two weeks since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took ill at the National Day Rally. But footage of the incident is still making its rounds.

    #GALAXYNOTE7: The latest flagship phablet from Samsung has been recalled after several handsets caught fire while charging.

    CIRCLE LINE: Netizens expressed anger over the intermittent signalling fault that resulted in numerous travel delays.

But the flood online has not just been on what to do in the fight against Zika, or keeping up to date.

Veteran opposition politician Goh Meng Seng, for instance, says the fact that so many cases were suddenly reported at once pointed to a "cover-up" by the ruling party.

A Straits Times video of Health Minister Gan Kim Yong refuting such allegations has been seen more than 53,000 times.

Many alternative news sites have also posted numerous articles - some containing unproven allegations by unnamed sources - which appear to be a tactic to stir up emotions and draw traffic to their sites.

But discerning readers should bear that in mind when it comes to disseminating unproven information.

On Friday, the World Health Organisation vindicated the way the authorities have been handling the outbreak.You can watch the video at http://str.sg/4p3f

The Straits Times' graphics team has produced an in-depth look at the key Zika clusters and how events unfolded during the week.  It includes a timeline of the virus and its spread throughout South-east Asia.

Take a look at it at http://str.sg/4pZC


Heard of Bigo Live?

Launched in March, it is a live-streaming app from a company headquartered here that allows anyone to broadcast his activities in real time. It is already among the top apps in both local Android and Apple app stores.

There is a plethora of live streams available, from people on a fishing trip to illustrators giving drawing tips. One particular stream, however, showed the wrong side of people. It shows a primary school pupil showing off her dance moves to her followers. Comments, which appear on the stream in real time, came in fast. Many seemed racist .

Twitter user Gerald Blossom (@kreepzville) took screen grabs of the stream and his post was retweeted almost 7,000 times. "She's only in pri sch & she was dancing on Bigo Live. Look at the comments. Racism doesn't exist in sg?" he asked.

Bigo Live has drawn criticism abroad.  A Vietnam news outlet reported on how many Vietnamese were using the platform to promote sexually explicit content. One user promised to "flash" when the view count reached 7,000. Minutes later, she took off her top.

In another stream, users were seen allegedly taking synthetic drugs and getting high. More than 15,000 users watched this take place from their mobile phones.

New ways to connect audiences to one another have made it harder for the authorities, and even the app developers themselves, to keep a close eye on such situations.

American comedian Bo Burnham put it best in his hit Netflix special "Make Happy". "Social media is the market's answer to a generation that demanded to perform. So the market said, 'Here, perform everything to each other all the time for no reason.' It's a prison. It's horrific," he said. 

Users are always responsible for what they say or do. And if the viewers cannot respond decently, don't complain if the authorities have to step in.


"Singaporeans, you are really so ugly," said Facebook user Sheryl Chen in a post that has attracted more than 3,500 likes, comments and shares.

She was heading back from Jurong East when a group of foreign workers boarded bus service 41. An elderly Chinese man then started berating a foreign worker for talking on the phone. "Can you shut up? Stop talking!" the man shouted. Although the foreign worker tried to defend himself, the man harped on the fact that the foreigner should "know his place".

Although Ms Chen tried to calm the elderly man down when no one else did, he retorted by telling her not to "act smart". She eventually asked the aggressor, who supposedly challenged the worker to a fight,to get off.

After the  man alighted, the foreign worker thanked Ms Chen for standing up for him.

"Thank you, sister, for supporting us. Because of you, I still have faith in Singaporeans," he told her. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'Cyberspace abuzz with Zika news and unproven claims'. Print Edition | Subscribe