13 Social Media & Mainstream lessons from Riot in Little India

Riot in Little India What this article is NOT about:

1. Why did the riot happen?
2. Who is responsible for the riot?
3. What should have been done to contain the riot?
4. Where should we go from here in terms of labour policy?
5. How long should we ban the sale of alcohol in Little India?
6. When was the last time we had a riot in Singapore?

What this article is about:

It is about the lesson learnt from social media activities in terms of the content created, the direction of social conversation and how different communities including mainstream media are reacting to the incident.

What’s expected:

1. Platforms : Social Media is a viral tool to share information fast. #LittleIndia was trending within an hour on Twitter. Instagram has over 500 photos shared. Live footages taken from passerby and from HDB blocks overlooking the scene were uploaded to youtube very quickly. Facebook is flooded with comments and shares. There is no shortage of repeated shared content but not much reliable information.

2. Mainstream media like Channel News Asia has more accurate onsite reporting than social media. (not many pictures on social media are up close and personal). Having information up close and personal is always challenging; Photojournalist Jonathan Choo was chased by men at the scene who were angry he was taking photo of them. Mainstream media has more authority in reporting the latest situation than social media. Reporters and cameras were there in the early hours of the morning when most people were already sleeping.

3. Conversation: Most comments are emotional, speculative and personal on social media. There were many jokes, ridicule, blame-shifting and finger-pointing but few cordial discussions. People use this opportunity to make further appeal to the government. Lastly, most comments were rather idiotic. This proves conversation is fluid; most content is just conversation starters.

What’s unexpected:

1. Fast and Very Furious. Social Media is fast but not necessarily accurate sharing. There was sharing of death of policemen within social media sphere which was entirely untrue. Untrue reports can spark off more speculation and social judgment on some innocent communities. Social Media contributed very little to police investigation of the incident.

2. Leverage. Some people leverage on incident and popular hashtags for personal gain and exposure. Companies promoting their services, and some bloggers writing about the incident out of their normal area of interest. Irresponsible use of popular hashtags will hurt your brand in the future. If it happens once, it is just an isolated incident. If it happens twice, it may be a coincidence. If it happens thrice, it is a pattern of behaviour!

3. Most SPH papers didn’t or report very little on the incident. This may be true. However, Asiaone did have extensive coverage of the riot. Social Media present a more visual impact of the incident while mainstream media provided a better overview and analysis. There are 3 sides to every story: Your side. My Side. The Truth.

4. International press were very quick to report about Singapore’s riot. There was error reporting too and one of them may be on the way to suspension. Mass Media takes responsibility for their reporting; what about people on social media? Are we self-regulating enough not to talk about something we won’t want to take responsibility for?

What’s commendable:

1. Some Social Media influencers can be true journalists. Social media celebrities like Willy Foo with great personal branding has a social responsibility to offer balanced sharing so that fans can have an objective understanding of the incident. Willy did it very well here Post by Willy Foo – Photographer, Marketer, Technopreneur.

2. Quick government immediate response – The press conference was held by 1am (Good crisis management). 2 hours before that, some ministers were already appealing the public to remain calm. See this announcement.  It has a very personable tone from a minister.  Social Media should always be used to curb initial speculation. Social Media fire must always be put out by Social Media water.

3. Authenticity – Authentic sharing from people close to the stakeholders. Not many speak up for the troopers on the ground. This is made worse by many condescending remarks by many who were not even any way near the riot. Imagine the spouses and family members of those who stood in the line of fire literally. We need more voices like this wife of one of the troopers -

What we hope to see/hear more:

1. Account from policemen on the ground. I know this is not possible as there is always an official media person from the police. I also believe policemen are not allowed to discuss their work on personal platforms and blogs. If some day, we can see live pictures posted by police at work, it will curb many speculation. Social media should be used strategically by the authority to offer a balance view and update of the situation. If personal sharing is not permitted, how about using the SPF facebook page for minute by minute update?

2. The riot instigators’ side of the story. We heard from the victim but not from others. Everyone deserves to be heard. On a side note, many Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) which are helping the foreign workers are also speaking up for them. We want to hear their stories too.

3. More responsible sharing of facts and not the fun of seeing the first riot in 44 years. Are Singaporeans really social media savvy? We know the science of social media (posting, comments, sharing) but not the art of social media (be personable but not personal). Social Media is akin to a weapon, use it responsibly. Don’t just be a keyboard warrior; be a gate keeper of social cohesiveness.

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