NOBODY can deny the power of social media – these days, just about anything can go viral on the Internet for the whole world to gawk at. From rants about immigration officers, netizens trolling ministers’ Facebook posts, to overly complicated PSLE questions that literally the world tried to solve – here are Singapore’s most viral moments for 2015.

On the MRT…

1. Sewing is sew dangerous

Claim to fame: A lady was cross-stitching on the MRT, and fellow commuter Tan Lay Hoon wrote a forum letter to ST on Nov 19, saying that this was dangerous. What if the needle impaled an eye or other body parts of a nearby commuter if the train jerked, she asked.

Controversy: Netizens poked fun of her letter and mimicked her writing style, coming up with various other “dangerous” scenarios on a moving MRT train, including: men swaying to music and “propelling forward” into other commuters; a laughing schoolgirl because she could “be propelled towards the commuter and sink her teeth into his neck, this may cause extreme bleeding and waste all that blood”.

Conclusion: Fellow netizen Tushar Ismail’s comment on men swaying to music on the MRT has since gained 2,000 likes. The public’s hilarious responses were also reported by the BBC, which said they had left Singaporeans “in stitches”.

2. Muslim woman gets shouted at by Caucasian male

Was waiting for a train at Tanah Merah mrt station & a caucasian guy shouted “Fuck You.” at me,saying how much he hates islam and left. Wow.

— شزواني جعفري (@SyazwaniJaffari) November 18, 2015

Claim to fame: Ms Syazwani Jaffari tweeted that she was shouted at by a Caucasian male with anti-Islam comments on Nov 18 at Tanah Merah MRT. Her follow-up tweet said that nobody came forward to defend her – though, her first tweet was retweeted nearly 2,000 times with many Singaporeans expressing support for her and admonishing what the man did.

Controversy: This came at the back of the Paris ISIS attacks, with Muslims in the US facing increasing hostility in the form of vandalism to mosques and threats of violence. This was the first reported anti-Islam comment in Singapore at the time of the growing Islamophobia after the Paris attacks.

Conclusion: Ms Syazwani’s tweet has since then gained 1,879 retweets and 367 likes. She thanked the public for their outpouring of support, which included encouraging her to report the offender using CCTV footage.

3. PJ Wong – the airport “Know Your Rights” douchebag

Claim to fame: After being approached by immigration officer Eugene Ng after landing in Singapore on Oct 15, PJ Wong posted a note, titled Know Your Rights, on his Facebook. In it, he said that the officer was “being an ass” for picking him out of dozens of other people, and for detaining him without a reason. He called it “an abuse of power and an infringement of [his] rights”.

Controversy: Netizens pointed out that it was the immigration officer’s right to detain him. They added that had he been in another country, he could have been jailed.

Conclusion: In one day, Mr Wong’s Facebook post garnered over 5,000 shares. A Facebook page in support of Mr Ng, titled “Well done Officer Eugene Ng, keep it up” was also created. Both have since been deleted.

More bad behaviour…

1. Let’s kill the terrorists’… kids?

Claim to fame: Former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng shared his ideas about how to tackle ISIS on his blog on Nov 14, which included killing not only extremists, but also their children – “in case they grow up to take revenge”.

Controversy: His initial post attracted a lot of online criticism, and two police reports were filed against him for the statements. People were also incredulous because Mr Cheng is on the Media Literacy Council which is supposed to stand up against hate speech and promote responsible social media use.

Conclusion: Mr Cheng later clarified that he was actually referring to child soldiers – except, of course, that’s not what he wrote in his original post. He also apologised.

2. The most famous Amos

Claim to fame: Famous Amos is known for its smells but this famous Amos caused a stink when the 17-year-old blogger uploaded a video he made about Singapore’s founding father titled “Lee Kuan Yew is Finally Dead!” earlier this year on March 27. Mr Lee died on March 23.

Controversy: In the video, he compared the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew to Jesus, and insulted both with hmm, shall we say, impolite language. Social media turned against him, and more than 30 police reports were filed against him for what was deemed as offensive and religiously insensitive statements.

Conclusion: Yee was convicted and sentenced to four weeks jail on July 6 for one count of making offensive or wounding remarks against Christianity, and one count of circulating obscene imagery. His conviction was backdated to June 2, which meant that he walked free. Yee was again in the news recently for mouthing off about Islam. Police tried to speak to him but soon after he supposedly got on a plane and left the country.

3. The world’s worst wedding guest

Claim to fame: Singapore blogger Juli Bun Bun posted
unflattering live updates on her Dayre blog, commenting on everything that she disliked about a wedding – even though she was one of the guests.

Controversy: She criticised the couple’s wedding ceremony, the food, the bridal car, and apparently even implied that the bride wasn’t pretty (at least, not as pretty as she was). Well, she wasn’t looking that good when netizens slammed her as “the world’s worst wedding guest”.

Conclusion: She later took down her posts, saying she did not want her words to be taken out of context – except, her posts had already gone viral, and Little Miss No Manners’ incredible lack of etiquette (not to mention common sense) was reported in both local and foreign media.

4. Good dad, bad dad?

Claim to fame: After a young girl was apparently scolded by a hawker for using utensils from the stall without purchasing any food there, her father supposedly said to her: “It’s alright, I will cause trouble for this stall and tell NEA there were cockroaches in the stall.”

Controversy: After the daughter of the hawker stall owner described the encounter in a Facebook post on Dec 26, netizens rallied behind the hawker and criticised the father for being vindictive and setting a bad example for his daughter. She said she “really hates it when people look down on hawker workers”.

Conclusion: The post on Facebook was shared over 42,000 times and sparked an online debate about the parenting styles of Singaporeans.

5. Dog abuser caught on film – WARNING, graphic content!

Claim to fame: A 1-minute long video, uploaded to YouTube via Stomp, on Oct 31 showed a horrifying scene of a man using a leash to lift his dog up in the air by its neck.

Controversy: The video had about 45,000 views and widespread negative comments on the YouTube page, as well as ST’s posts on Facebook about the man’s sadistic behaviour across the Internet. Netizens called him “cruel”, “wicked”, “a monster”, and some even saying that the perpetrator should be “hanged to get a taste of his own medicine”, likening his act of choking his dog with a leash to hanging.

Conclusion: The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) took the dog into custody with the help of the police, and a police report was filed against the owner. A veterinarian doctor checked on the dog and confirmed that it was ok. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) and SPCA said that they would work together to put a case against the dog owner. The outcome of this is still unknown.

A reprieve from all the bad behaviour… here were some moments that made us feel pretty good about ourselves. #faithinhumanityrestored

1. The MRT hero turned Manhunt hunk

Claim to fame: In July, Mr Muhamad Hanafie confronted a Caucasian man for threatening a teenager on the MRT. The altercation happened because the man apparently took offence with the teenager’s T-shirt, which said “I’m F–king Special”. Mr Hanafie intervened and stood up for the boy. His actions were filmed and shared online. Netizens started calling Mr Hanafie the MRT hero.

Compliments: Mr Hanafie just so happened to lose his job as a bellboy at a hotel, around the time that the clip went viral online. Fame, however, came again when Manhunt organisers tracked him down on Facebook and offered him a spot as a contestant this year.

Conclusion: Although Mr Hanafie did not win the Manhunt competition, he won the Most Courageous Award. Although he is currently unemployed, he has been cast for a yet-to-be-named drama on Mediacorp’s Suria channel that will be broadcast early next year.

2. Good samaritans saving man trapped under lorry

Claim to fame: A group of about 30 people came together to rescue a South Korean man, Kim Sung Mo, 35, who was trapped under a lorry at the junction of Boon Keng Road and Bendemeer Road. The samaritans’ heroic act was captured on a 1.5 minute video clip by Facebook user Suan Wang Foo on July 22, the day of the incident. The video went viral since it was uploaded on Facebook, receiving more than 300,000 views.

Compliments: Although the samaritans expected no reward, they were individually thanked and were presented with gifts. Seven of the people who helped free the victim were rewarded with a five-day trip to South Korea, and were hosted to lunch by the Korean Association in Singapore.

Conclusion: You don’t have to be in a costume to be a superhero.

3. Construction workers save toddler

Claim to fame: On April 23, a foreign worker and his friend climbed to the second floor of a HDB block at Jurong East Street 32 to save a toddler who had her head stuck between the rails of an external clothes drying rack. Two videos of the incident were uploaded to YouTube by blogger Alvin Lim on the day itself. The two videos combined have since then hit over four million views.

Compliments: Both workers were awarded the SCDF Public Spiritedness Awards for their quick thinking and brave effort in coming forth to save the toddler.

Conclusion: Foreign workers build homes and save babies.

4. Kind uncle advises foreign workers

Claim to fame: On Aug 24, three foreign workers wanted to give up their seats for some Singaporean commuters, but was told by Mr Rimy Lau, 68, that they had the right to sit down as well. Reporter Melody Zaccheus, who happened to be in the same carriage, wrote a piece about the incident and also posted pictures she took of what happened on Facebook. The post had been shared more than 15,000 times by users and organisations such as the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). The ST Online story about the act also reached more than 800,000 users and has been shared about 30,000 times.

Compliments: One of the 53 comments left on Ms Zaccheus’s post, written by Ms Honey Lee, said that foreign workers make Singaporeans realise that they “are so much more human”. Ms Lee added: “Sometimes the poorer people are more human and affectionate than people who own big houses with 7 cars”.

Conclusion: Mr Lau was honoured by the Singapore Kindness Movement on Sept 3 with a certificate commending his gesture, and a figurine of Singa the Courtesy Lion. The news also hit local media channels like ST.

Education had a pretty good year on social media… if you believe there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

1. When is Cheryl’s birthday?

Claim to fame: “Cheryl’s birthday” was a mathematics question asked in the 2015 Singapore and Asian Schools Mathematics Olympiad in April 2015, which gave some oblique clues to candidates to deduce Cheryl’s birth date. The debate over Cheryl’s birthday reached major media outlets around the world – including, of course, local satire news programme, The Noose.

Controversy: TV presenter Kenneth Kong initially attributed the question to a test meant for 10 and 11-year-olds when it was actually in a secondary school Olympiad. Before the mix-up was clarified, netizens were up in arms over the difficulty of mathematics questions in Singapore examinations.

Conclusion: Spoiler alert. July 15. Nuff said.

2. The weight of a $1 coin

Claim to fame: This question appeared in the 2015 PSLE Mathematics paper, held on Oct 2 as a multiple-choice question. On the very same day, Facebook user Lee Xun Yi posted on the wall of the Ministry of Education’s Facebook account seeking clarification regarding that question.

Controversy: Many parents were upset at this question because they deemed it irrelevant to any PSLE-level mathematics skills.

Conclusion: The PSLE Mathematics syllabus showed that one of the objectives of the primary school curriculum for mathematics was the ability to perform estimations. And by the way, one $1 coin weighs 61g. We’ll leave you to, uh, do the maths.

3. Will or would?

Claim to fame: Parent and GE2015 hopeful Nadine Yap saw her daughter Zoe’s English homework, and was puzzled at why the teacher marked out mistakes when the sentences seemed to read fine. She posted the homework on her Facebook wall on Oct 6 to ask her friends what they thought.

Controversy: One of Ms Yap’s friends told her to change the post’s settings to ‘Public’ because that friend wanted to share that particular post. She did that on the very same day. It was all over the Chinese news within the day, and the English news the next day.

Conclusion: The teacher is always right. No, but really: In this case, the teacher was right. Even Ms Yap concluded that the teacher was an “attentive, caring and imaginative professional”, and apologised for the unwanted attention the incident had cast on the teacher.

4. The Shuqun bully

Claim to fame: A video of a bullying incident at Shuqun Secondary School brought a serious case to light. The victim, a 15-year-old boy, had been bullied by his classmate for five months. In the video, the bully is seen hitting the victim on his head and face repeatedly. Apparently the teacher was aware of the bullying.

Controversy: The 53-second video created a stir online, with most condemning the act and calling on both the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the school to take action. Since the clip was uploaded on Sept 21, it has been shared more than 12,000 times and viewed nearly 500,000 times.

Conclusion: MOE responded to mainstream media over the incident, stating that MOE “takes a serious view of bullying in schools and does not condone such behaviour”. The bully was transferred to another class and faced internal suspension. He had to apologise for his actions both verbally and in writing. The then-principal of Shuqun Secondary School, Mr Chia Hai Siang, was subsequently replaced by Mr N Sivarajan.

And last but not least, our favourite politicians whose efforts to engage citizens on social media perhaps might not have gone the way they intended… but gave us lots to talk about.

1. Tan Chuan-Jin and his cardboard comment

Claim to fame: In a Facebook post on July 12, newly-appointed Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin claimed that while some elderly people collect cardboard as a “main source of income”, others “treat it as a form of exercise and activity rather than being cooped up at home”.

Controversy: The response from some netizens was swift and unrelenting. Many accused him of “wayang””, or trying to justify the G’s anti-welfare stance. Mr Tan responded: “That’s what we should do, right? Find out about people? Hey, I’m trying!”

Conclusion: The Workers’ Party’s Daniel Goh, a sociologist, offered a nuanced take: The Minister wasn’t trying to “whitewash the poverty issue”, but he had accepted what his interviewees were saying “at face value”. What do cardboard collectors really think? We still don’t know. Maybe another minister would like to take a stab?

2. Teo Ser Luck and the foreign workers’ dormitory

Claim to fame: On Dec 11, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) uploaded photos of Minister of State Teo Ser Luck’s visit to a foreign workers’ dormitory, including one of Mr Teo lying on a dorm bed, with the caption: “Quite comfy! I learnt that some workers prefer to sleep without a mattress as they are used to it back in their home country. They find it more comfortable and cooler too!”

Controversy: While some praised Mr Teo for finding out first-hand how foreign workers lived, others were outraged. Foreign worker Ibrahim Khalil responded that workers in his dorm did not use mattresses, because it lacked proper ventilation. A few hours later, MOM shortened the caption, removing any reference to how “comfortable” dorm beds were.

Conclusion: In a statement, MOM said the quote was not from Mr Teo, but had been removed entirely “to avoid further misinterpretation”. For his part, Mr Teo promised to look into Mr Khalil’s complaint.

3. PM Lee’s Sudoku program

Claim to fame: On May 4, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong uploaded a screenshot of a Sudoku solver he had written several years ago in the C++ programming language. PM Lee obtained a diploma in computer science alongside his math degree from Cambridge University. The Facebook post went viral, attracting almost 50,000 likes and reaching an international audience.

Controversy: Not much, aside from experts calling the code “well-written”, and non-Singaporeans wishing their leaders were as cool.

Conclusion: A few days later, then-Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan translated the Sudoku solver into Javascript. Both Ministers used the hashtag #SmartNation, a geeky reference to the G’s multimillion-dollar initiative to use technology to improve lives.

4. Heavenly orh luak

Claim to fame: As the election season was heating up, Workers’ Party Chairman Sylvia Lim joined Instagram. Her first post on Aug 12 was of herself eating orh luak at Fengshan hawker centre, with the now-legendary caption “the taste of Fengshan – heavenly”, with the hashtag #reasonstowin.

Controversy: The post prompted speculation that Ms Lim would be fielded in the newly-formed Fengshan SMC. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was indignant: “Now we see [Sylvia Lim] saying that Fengshan SMC looks quite delicious. What’s going to happen? You’re going to swallow up Fengshan? For what purpose?” Asked about DPM Teo’s comments, Ms Lim responded: “It is a pity that DPM Teo did not have a sense of humour.”

Conclusion: Despite the political parrying, candidates on both sides lined up to eat the dish – except PAP Fengshan candidate Cheryl Chan, who pointed out that bak chor mee at Fengshan was more famous than orh luak. In an unexpected (and perhaps divine) appearance, orh luak later made it to the New York Times’ top 10 list of restaurant dishes.

Written by Gillian Lim, Clarabelle Gerard, Joshua Lim, Rohini Samtani and Yoong Ren Yan.

Featured image by Ernest Goh.

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