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Against Online Vigilantism: Who Are The Real Covidiots?

Remember the unpleasant Go-jek "hostage" dispute at the start of last year? After the video of their exchange went viral, incensed netizens showed their rage towards the passenger by naming and shaming her online.

Soon after, it was reported that the Ministry of Law noticed an upward trend in recent years of an individual’s personal information (such as their photos, contact details, place of work etc.) being consolidated and published online, with the intention of harassing the person.

This is known as "doxxing", and the most common reason for this: online vigilantism.

Both are bad. And doxxing is a criminal offence.

In fact, it was noted in the Library of Congress that "On May 7, 2019, the Parliament of Singapore passed an amendment to the city-state’s harassment law, the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA). The Protection from Harassment (Amendment) Act 2019 (Amendment Act) adds to POHA the new offense of 'doxxing', which involves the publication of 'identity information' in order to harass, threaten, or facilitate violence against the victim."

What does this mean? Especially with the rise of online vigilantism once again during this Circuit Breaker, something exacerbated by the creation of the Facebook group "SG Covidiots" at the beginning of April.

Quick recap: a "Covidiot", according to the most popluar entry on Urban Dictionary, is “someone who ignores the warnings regarding public health or safety".

Other entries define a Covidiot as someone "as someone “who stubbornly ignores ‘social distancing’ protocol, thus helping to further spread COVID-19”.

In a Facebook Note, user Wei Li Fong expresses his disdain for the Facebook group that targets "SG Covidiots", saying "it’s online lynching, internet vigilantism, and mob justice at their finest".

Posted by Wei Li Fong on Tuesday, 28 April 2020


In the Note, he, too, highlights doxxing, and that it could land the person naming and shaming in hot water instead:

"If you publish identifiable details (such as a photo or a video) about someone in public, and by doing so you cause distress to that person, you’re technically guilty of doxxing. Newsflash: you become a criminal too."

He goes on to say "it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that most of the people posting content on SG Covidiots don’t actually know the people whose photos/videos they’re sharing":

"What this means is that the demonising comments accompanying these posts are made without knowledge of the subject’s personal circumstances. Granted, some people have no legitimate reason to flout Covid-19 rules. But it’s equally likely that the grandma eating at a void deck did so because her daughter-in-law forced her out of the house. The ah pek walking around with his mask down might have momentarily removed it because he had difficulty breathing. Or perhaps the teenager kicking ball downstairs was there because he needed a respite from his abusive father? Some older folks (or people struggling with mental issues - yes - these things are real) may not even be literate or sane enough to know or remember the rules, what with these rules changing every other day. Point is, you never know."

And what this amounts to - naming and shaming someone when you don't know the full picture or don't get your facts right - is bullying and true idiocy, isn't it?

So basically, don't be kaypoh. Mind your own business.

And if you have a real complaint to make, do as Wei Li suggests: "Raise it through the right channels." Think: approaching your town council or writing to your MP. And not turning into a mindless bao toh kia.

Cuz when doxxing gets you in the dock, who's the Covidiot then?


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