SINGAPORE - Singaporeans should think twice before posting on social media images or information about vulnerable people without their consent, say volunteers and social workers.
This includes people on the streets such as rough sleepers and cardboard collectors.
The volunteers and social workers who assist rough sleepers here said posting and sharing such content can upset them and cause distress.
Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling had addressed the issue in Parliament on Aug 2, saying vulnerable people should be directed to the Ministry of Social and Family Development's (MSF) social service offices for assistance.
Ms Sun, who was responding to Central Singapore District Mayor Denise Phua, an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, said: "When you put up a video or a photo, apart from the fact that you might be infringing on the privacy as well as confidentiality of the vulnerable person, sometimes you may be bringing unwanted attention to the vulnerable person."
Ms Sun added: "Befriending groups from the Vulnerable-in-Community network engage the tissue sellers and cardboard collectors to find out their needs and bring them into the social support system, if they are willing."
Ms Siti Rohana Hamson, manager of Social Service Office @ Bedok and Geylang Serai, said that social workers have come across instances where such social media posts can affect rough sleepers' relationships with family members and employers.
"To have quite personal information published, it brings them distress. They are out in the community and people may look at them differently."
Ms Rohana said that social workers have also come across cases where the wrong information is shared about rough sleepers.
"We do hope when people want to help, they seek the right channels instead of posting on social media. We will help rough sleepers on a case-by-case basis with their needs, whether it is financial assistance or housing," she added.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, MSF said: "MSF understands that members of the public may publish social media posts with the intention of raising awareness or seeking help for an individual.
"Instead of posting on social media, we encourage members of the public to refer individuals who may need help to MSF. MSF and our partners will coordinate and render support to ensure that they get the necessary assistance."
The ministry works with community partners through the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers Network, which was set up in 2019 to assist vulnerable people on the streets.
The network has over 30 community partners, including Homeless Hearts and the Catholic Welfare Services, which coordinate efforts to secure shelter and the basic needs for rough sleepers.
Community organisations stepped up to help the rising number of rough sleepers who needed assistance by setting up their premises as Safe Sound Sleeping Places (S3Ps) during the circuit breaker last year. Since April last year, the network has supported over 900 individuals at S3Ps.
Co-founder of Homeless Hearts Abraham Yeo said volunteers have come across instances of rough sleepers whose images and location details were shared online.
He said: "Ultimately we draw the line at what's the agenda behind posting photos or videos of these individuals - is it to raise awareness or for people's own agendas?"
Mr Yeo added that Homeless Hearts is concerned that social media posts could be exploiting rough sleepers' circumstances instead of helping them.
Mr Derek Lim, head of volunteering at Homeless Hearts, recalled an incident where volunteers were called down to assist a rough sleeper who was being photographed by someone.
"The homeless man told us, 'When people take photos or videos of us, posting them on social media with our faces shown, our families will know about us and be affected.'"
Mr Brian Monteiro, manager of shelters and programmes at Catholic Welfare Services (CWS), said it is important to build friendships with rough sleepers and understand their circumstances before extending help.
CWS has been conducting regular night walks - called Night Missions - since 2014, befriending rough sleepers and providing meals and assistance to those in need.
Mr Monteiro said: "The lives of these vulnerable individuals do not become better after their information is shared online. Often, their faces are publicised, they are questioned and they move away from their familiar locations.
"They do not ask for money or pity, only that they are treated with dignity and respect. They are still human beings and fellow Singaporeans." CWS has been conducting regular night walks - called Night Missions - since 2014, befriending rough sleepers and providing meals and assistance to those in need.
Helplines for rough sleepers
Readers can also seek help at or refer those in need to Homeless Hearts by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Readers can find out more about the Catholic Welfare Services' Night Mission by calling 6333-5484.