Read the Room, Singaporeans

It’s about time we wake up and realise the impact of our comments. Please, type with empathy.

As news about the River Valley High School murder rocked the nation, Singaporeans flocked to social media to leave their two cents on the situation. [Photo: ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash]

By Loraine Lee

CORRECTION: We earlier wrote that a teacher “pinned” down a student in our image based on a report by 8world. However, we are unable to independently verify this and would like to retract this statement. This change has been reflected in the article.

Singaporeans were glued to their phones on Monday (July 19) as notifications went up in a flurry. Social media was swarmed with one topic: the River Valley High School murder. 

A 13-year-old was murdered by a 16-year-old wielding an axe on school campus.

I, too, found myself distracted from work by any exclusive “scoop” that came my way — and I mean anything. Within minutes from the news breaking, a friend sends me a link from Hardware Zone which alleged the murder weapon was an axe; hours later, the ping from a notification alerts me to new WhatsApp message comprising of screenshots from alleged students recounting the situation through messages.

Then, I received a screenshot of a comment that read: River Valley trying to turn into Riverdale.

Screenshot via Twitter

What? Comparing a murder to an off-the-walls Netflix teen drama?

Singaporeans who just can’t read the room seem to be flooding social media comments. Just a glance at the Straits Time’s Facebook page would raise eyebrows, with comments on their article’s post speculating that the murderer played too many video games or “study until like that”; and the victim must have done something to “deserve it”. And, of course, the usual racial undertones with comments questioning the races of those involved.

This, sadly, can be found across most social media platforms.

Then there were the comments turning it into a joke, such as saying “I thought my Friday was bad” or “Friday the 13th but real”. Oh, and the comments making pop-culture references like Bae Ro-Na, a character who was murdered in K-Drama Penthouse, and the movie The Purge

Did we forget the feelings of family members that lost their child tragically? A parent sent their child to school, hoping that they would be able to have a bright future ahead. Instead of having a family dinner together, they’re reeling from the sudden news their child isn’t with them anymore.

What about the students of River Valley High School, who were told to stay locked in their classrooms? The few that saw the alleged murderer and his blood-stained shoes? The ones that ran away, or were crying to their parents over the phone fearing the worst? The ones who tragically lost their friend or classmate in a matter of minutes.

Or the teachers who had to escort their students to safety, or are struggling to accept the reality of the day’s events? The ones that lost their student in a tragic manner?

These comments only trivialise the gravity of the situation and it shows a lack of empathy for the people involved. These crimes may be sensationalised in a country that has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, but it doesn’t mean that we can treat it like another trend or joke about it.

Speculation also just adds fuel to a fire, creating falsehoods about the people involved — despite them being real humans with a personality and not fictional characters. 

These comments only serve to dehumanise the victim, draw attention away from the severity of the crime, and — be it intentionally or unintentionally — cause more pain to those affected by the situation.

Don’t think these comments or messages will never be seen or will be forgotten about; everything on the internet lasts forever. You never know who or when someone might stumble across your insensitive message.

And consider, if you were in the shoes of those affected by the situation, how would you feel reading your comments? 

With the 16-year-old set to be charged with murder on Tuesday (July 20), I believe we can only expect another onslaught of uncalled for remarks. 

So, what can the rest of us do? Call out these comments — flag them, report them and help the commenter understand why it’s insensitive. Better yet, social media platforms should moderate these comments in consideration of all those affected, especially since the students are of a young and impressionable age.

So as a plea to all Singaporeans, it’s about time we wake up and realise the impact of our comments. Please, type with empathy.

Should you feel distressed, please know that there are hotlines and resources available to help you:

Samaritans of Singapore
1800-221 444 (24 hours)

Institute of Mental Health
6389-2222 (24 hours)

Singapore Association for Mental Health
1800 283-7019 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)

1800 377-2252 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)

Brahm Centre Assistline
6655-0000 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)

After hours
8823-0000 (WhatsApp available)