What's Trending

The importance of being awe-inspiring

What is trending on social media matters and has the power to inspire or bring about ruin

Do-gooders come in all shapes and sizes. Instead of donning spandex and capes, some good Samaritans prefer to be clad in metal-studded jackets, black jeans emblazoned with skulls and heavy-duty boots.

Last Saturday, a group of four men, who declined to be interviewed, headed down to Little India to lend a hand to those in need. In a Facebook post uploaded under the hashtag #PunkCharityDrive, one of the members said they were inspired by videos documenting how cardboard collectors eke out a living in Singapore.

The men spent the better part of the day distributing "care packs" to cardboard collectors in the area. The packs contained a face towel, an umbrella, a poncho, two packet drinks and some slices of bread.

"Though our contributions might be too small to make a huge difference, we implore people to start coming together to help in their own ways," the post read. "Regardless of our capabilities, we are stronger together."

Their selfless act was praised by many netizens and even a religious teacher.

The altruistic deeds, blind to race, profession or religion, did not stop there. In a separate incident, Mr Khairul Farhan, a 24-year-old civilian officer with the police force, took to Facebook to express his gratitude to the passers-by who came to the aid of an injured elderly Chinese man.

Above: Netizens praised the men who gave care packs to cardboard collectors in Little India. PHOTOS: PUNKCHARIYDRIVE/FACEBOOK, SAKINAH TAN/JASON QUAH/INSTAGRAM

The man, who looked to be in his 70s, fell off his bicycle after a heavy downpour near Pasir Ris Elias Community Club last Friday evening.

"The cut looked deep and blood was dripping down his face, and onto his shirt," Mr Khairul said.

Above: Ms Tan's act of using her hijab to shelter her grandmother from the rain drew mixed responses after netizens learnt that they are related. PHOTOS: PUNKCHARIYDRIVE/FACEBOOK, SAKINAH TAN/JASON QUAH/INSTAGRAM

Mr Khairul and his wife ran to him when they noticed the severity of his injuries. Others did too.

Within minutes, a Chinese woman stepped forward to shelter the old man from the rain. An Indian man made sure his bicycle was secured safely while a Malay man rushed to the nearest clinic to call a doctor. A Bangladeshi foreign worker stood behind Mr Khairul to shield him from the drizzle.

"Their actions reaffirmed to me that racial harmony is still strong in Singapore," he said in a post that has been shared more than 3,100 times.

In the 20 minutes it took for an ambulance to arrive, the Chinese woman also managed to get in touch with the injured man's relatives who immediately rushed down to be with him.


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The group dispersed shortly after the man was taken away.

"In this day and age, racial harmony should not be taken for granted" said Mr Khairul, referring to a trending YouTube video last week where a Chinese woman was seen hurling verbal abuse at her Malay neighbour among other offences. "With all this discrimination going on, it was very nice to see people helping each other unconditionally," he added.

Here's another example: A soldier was lauded last Tuesday for helping a woman struggling with her bags by carrying her young daughter from one end of the National Stadium to the other.

The Straits Times article on Lieutenant Tee Chze Hao had more than 7,000 shares on social media.

These kind acts which elicited praise are a timely reminder that what is trending on social media matters, and can either inspire others or bring about ruin.

Earlier this month, a Singaporean who actively spread radical ideology which promoted violence was detained for terrorism-related activities. Zulfikar Mohamad Shariff, 44, made numerous Facebook posts that glorified terror group ISIS and its violent actions such as beheadings. His postings contributed to the radicalisation of at least two other Singaporeans.

That such posts are popular points to which emotions provoke users to share on social media. How things get viral has been closely studied in recent years.

A sentiment study on 70 million Weibo messages, analysed by researchers from Beihang University in China, found that posts that make users feel "joy" encourage a faster spread than sadness or disgust.

But nothing is speedier than rage.

Weibo users on the China-based platform reacted fastest to domestic social problems such as corruption, food security or forced resettlement.

In a similar vein, researchers Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman from the University of Pennsylvania studied the spread of 7,000 New York Times articles and found that anger ranks as one of the top factors driving people to share.

"Anger is a high-arousal emotion which drives people to action," Professor Berger told the Smithsonian Magazine. "It makes you feel fired up, which makes you more likely to pass things on."

Not surprisingly, stories which made netizens feel sad, a "deactivating" emotion, don't spread too widely.

The good news, however, is that taken as a whole, positive articles were more likely to be passed along. Most importantly, the one emotion that researchers found outpaced anger was awe.

"Awe is characterised by a feeling of admiration and elevation in the face of something greater than oneself, such as someone overcoming adversity," Prof Berger wrote in his study.

So the next time you feel like sharing a post that promotes ill-will, how about sharing something positive instead?

Even better, do a good deed that is worthy of going viral.

It might not get noticed or reported, but surely that's preferable to contributing to a spiral of negativity that is unfortunately getting all too rampant online.


A photo of a 23-year-old woman sheltering a 78-year-old Chinese lady with her head scarf or hijab has been trending online.

The powerful image, taken by photographer Jason Quah for Singapore daily Today last Tuesday, has attracted close to 2,000 likes on Instagram.

Curiosity drove netizens to suss out the identity of the subjects in the photo. It turns out that the young lady, Ms Sakinah Rafiq Tan Hui Ling, was in fact the granddaughter of the elderly lady, Madam Annie Loh.

That revelation drew mixed responses. While a majority of the comments were positive, there have been several that were clearly said in ignorance.

"Is the uploader dumb? They don't look the same," said one user.

In a response to the sudden surge of attention, Ms Tan, now also called the Hijabrella girl, put up a lengthy blog post detailing the price she pays for the bias of others and the roller coaster of emotions she has gone through.

Ms Tan feels uncomfortable being the subject of scrutiny and is indignant at the suggestion that her photo was staged in order to spread a positive message.

Onlookers often assume that Ms Tan is Madam Loh's hired help, despite the elderly lady's best efforts to make it known that Ms Tan is her granddaughter.

Despite interracial families becoming more common, the stigma, says Ms Tan, still persists.

Ms Tan adds that everyone would be better off being more understanding. "Hey Singapura, Majulah, ok?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 31, 2016, with the headline 'The importance of being awe-inspiring'. Print Edition | Subscribe