Saturday 26 May 2012

Blogger Xiaxue fights back against Facebook abuse

She posts on blog pictures of those who insulted her over PAP rally photos
By Grace Chua and Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 25 May 2012

MEN who this week called popular blogger Xiaxue a 'stupid bimbo' and a 'whore' online are getting a taste of their own medicine.

She is fighting back by posting their photos and information on her blog, in an attempt to show that they do not have much of a leg to stand on in the looks and intelligence department themselves.

The furore started when photos of her with two friends, taken without permission from their blogs, surfaced on the Facebook page of political website Temasek Review on Monday, Tuesday and yesterday, with an invitation to caption them.

The photos of the three - Xiaxue and her friends Qiu Qiu and Sophie - were taken at a People's Action Party (PAP) rally in Aljunied GRC during last May's general election. In the photo, Xiaxue, 28, and Qiu Qiu, 24, have PAP logos on their faces.

In her blog, Xiaxue has never made her support for Singapore's ruling party a secret.

Commenters responded to the Temasek Review's invitation readily: 'Cheap b****,' said one.

'Pretty and sexy girls, which part of Geylang they work?', said another.

Xiaxue, whose real name is Wendy Cheng, posted on her blog yesterday: 'I don't know what is their problem (sic) because as I said, I have not uttered a word about this election and the photos are one year old.'

To get back at them, she trawled Facebook for their photos and information - and Facebook was obliging, because many of their profiles were public.

'I did not hack their accounts or even snoop very hard,' she said. 'Their details and pictures can be found by anyone who clicks on their Facebook profile upon seeing their comments on Temasek Review's Facebook page, which has over 10,000 likes.'

She added: 'What kind of men would say this kind of thing? Singaporean men are such bullies. They think I'm a nobody - just a random girl they can bully.'

Among the men who featured in her gallery of 'bullies' were several who are married with children.

When asked by The Straits Times yesterday whether putting up their pictures meant she was stooping to their level, Xiaxue was unapologetic.

She said: 'No, I would never ever talk about somebody like that unless they personally attacked me. How can I sink to their level, to call them a sex worker in such a derogatory manner?'

She is no stranger to hostile online feuds, or 'flaming', herself, having written profanity-strewn posts about those who have got her goat in the past.

Asked why online commenters are hostile, sociopolitical blogger Siew Kum Hong said there is a 'herd instinct' at work, exacerbated by the anonymous nature of online interaction.

He said: 'You don't see the other people in front of you. You don't have to deal with the discomfort that it can cause.'

He noted, however, that in the past, such 'flame wars' took place on more niche forums such as Sammyboy, rather than on Facebook, 'which is very much in your face'.

He does not think Singapore needs a law or official code for online conduct, but said it will be difficult to change online interaction, because people must want to do the right thing themselves.

'There is no silver bullet, no easy answer. You are free to do it, because there are few repercussions... It has to be intrinsic: You realise that you will hurt someone, and there is a human being at the receiving end.'

One of the victims of Xiaxue's revenge, swim coach Lim Soon Chwee, 34, told The Straits Times last night that his comment, 'Pretty and sexy girls, which part of Geylang they work?' was incomplete.

'I didn't mean that at all,' he said, adding that he was actually trying to defend her.

'She's a public figure and she's probably just trying to increase the number of eyeballs on her blog.'

When he told his wife about Xiaxue's post, she just laughed, he said.

Another man who got one back from Xiaxue, Mr Hong Xing, a 35-year-old father of one, was less forgiving, because the photo Xiaxue held up for ridicule also featured his wife and child.

The engineer admitted that he had insinuated that Xiaxue was an underage prostitute, but said he preferred women in more conservative clothes.

'Look at what she is wearing. When she bends down, you can see her breasts,' he said, adding that he has seen prostitutes in Geylang who dress this way.

He added that he might not have posted the comment if he had known she would see it, but that she should not have posted photographs of his family online.

He said: 'My wife feels really bad. This is between Xiaxue and me. She shouldn't have attacked my family.'

*Xiaxue defends her actions over Facebook abuse
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2012

BLOGGER Xiaxue is not letting the men who called her 'stupid' and a 'prostitute' online off just yet - at least not before one last blog entry.

Two weeks after she hit back against these men on her blog, she posted another entry on Monday, reproducing screen grabs of Facebook postings of her 'haters'.

She took action when photos of her with her two friends were taken without permission and surfaced on the Facebook page of political website Temasek Review, with an invitation to caption them.

Commenters responded with derogatory remarks like 'pretty and sexy girls, which part of Geylang they work?'

To get back at them, she trawled Facebook for their photos and information - much of which was public - and publicised them on her blog. She also posted pictures of them with their wives and children.

In her latest post, Xiaxue, 28, whose real name is Wendy Cheng, defended her actions in response to critics although she noted that 95 per cent of the responses had been positive.

'Did they show consideration for my innocent loved ones? Or theirs for that matter?' she wrote. She received 528 likes on Facebook for the latest post as of last night.

She also addressed the point some made that she should not be a blogger if she could not tolerate criticism.

'Do not mistake fighting for your rights with the inability to withstand adversity. The two are not the same,' she said.

She told The Straits Times yesterday it will be her last entry on the issue. 'I don't need an apology, but I'm surprised none of them was man enough to ask me to remove the pictures of their wives and kids.'

One of the men, swim coach Lim Soon Chwee, 34, said last night he was not aware of and will not read her latest post. 'I'm not interested in her anymore. In my opinion, this issue has come to a close for me.'

Cyberspace shootouts leave all bloodied
By Cherian George, The Straits Times, 26 May 2012

SOME Internet users are implanted with a special microchip that wirelessly connects the ugliest recesses of their minds directly to their keyboards, routing around common sense and conscience.

This brain-bypassing technology enables superfast uploading of the cruellest comments. Vile and juvenile attacks on other netizens inflate the user's ego and give him an exaggerated sense of accomplishment, making him feel more potent than he is in real life.

Most of the experienced bloggers I know who have been victims of this (anti-)social media phenomenon have opted for the high road. When on the receiving end of crude personal attacks, they stick to the moral high ground. They have learnt to brush aside such flaming as part of the price we have to pay for freedom of expression on the Internet.

Popular blogger Xiaxue (Ms Wendy Cheng) has taken a different tack. Incensed at some of the invective scrawled on Temasek Review's Facebook wall, she has hit back by exposing the individuals responsible.

Now the thing about the aforementioned software is that it's not exactly rocket science, so its users have no guarantee that their targets won't pick it up and use it against them. They are usually counting on the fact that the victim is more civilised or busier than they are (both are generally safe assumptions), and that he or she therefore won't descend to an eye-for-an-eye online shootout.

Enter Xiaxue.

I am not a fan of her blog. This is an admittedly elitist perspective, but the fact that more Singaporeans read her than, say, Yawning Bread, Diary of a Singaporean Mind or Rambling Librarian doesn't speak well for the discernment of Singaporean Internet users.

But there is something to be said for the way Ms Cheng handles herself in the rough and tumble of cyberspace.

Temasek Review posted a year-old photo of her on its Facebook wall, showing her painting a People's Action Party logo on her cheek. The administrators invited readers to contribute captions. Predictably, this generated a number of off-colour remarks at her expense. Less predictably, she reached behind some of the comments and plucked out a couple of fine specimens of Singaporean misogynists for all to see.

Relying on the men's own public Facebook profiles, she revealed details like their ages and occupations along with some unflattering pictures.

'I've always wondered if people who call me fugly are bloody good-looking themselves,' she commented about one. 'So I thought you must look like Brad Pitt. But you look more like an armpit.' Okay, she may not be ready to write comedy for The Noose, but she made her point.

Then, there was a chap who remarked 'pretty and sexy girls which part of geylang do they work?'

Xiaxue shot back by publishing a photo of him, his wife and their two babies. 'He is married with two cute kids. I wonder how he will feel like if in future men ask his daughter which part of geylang she works at?'

Another man compared Xiaxue to Geylang prostitutes and underage hookers, apparently assuming that his comments would remain in the nether world of Temasek Review's Facebook wall. But Xiaxue published his comments together with a family portrait of him, his wife and baby.

The juxtaposition of this image of family bliss (probably how he would like the world to see him) with evidence of his inner demons must have come as quite a shock for him.

Interviewed in yesterday's Straits Times, the 35-year-old engineer protested that she had it coming, because she did not dress conservatively enough for his taste. He whined that she should have left his family out of it, and that his wife 'feels really bad'.

Pity his belated bout of sensitivity towards family members' feelings did not extend to Ms Cheng's husband.

Her final shot: 'Maybe you will think twice before you call somebody a whore next time, huh?'

Since I posted the original version of this piece on my blog, several netizens have commented, quite correctly, that this tit-for-tat response cannot be the long-term answer to the 'trolls' who pollute the Internet. Ultimately, I too would like to believe in the Golden Rule: treating others the way we'd like to be treated.

But perhaps it is naive to think that everyone will exercise such empathy spontaneously. Some may need to learn the Golden Rule the hard way.

So, in those sections of cyberspace where civility is muscled out, perhaps there is justification for Xiaxue's blazing-guns response. The wimp that I am, I would still opt for the less gangster-ish approach to online attacks. But I confess that reading her blog filled me with the same guilty, vicarious pleasure that I get out of a good Mafia movie.

To paraphrase Sean Connery in The Untouchables: 'They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.

'That's the Xiaxue way.'

The writer, an associate professor at the Nanyang Technological University, is the author of Freedom From The Press: Journalism And State Power In Singapore ( An earlier version of this piece appeared on the blog

More civility, please
Editorial, The Straits Times, 3 Jun 2012

The recent episode of men calling popular blogger Xiaxue (Ms Wendy Cheng) all kinds of names online and her vitrolic tit-for-tat retaliation has left a bitter taste in the mouth of the observer. But if it offers any lesson to the men and others, it is that if you are going to take the risk of 'flaming' someone, be prepared for others to post your personal information and family pictures in blogs as retaliation. This was exactly what Xiaxue did when she fought back against her abusers. It is wiser to leave out your family pictures especially, for your wife and your children may end up as collateral damage when the other person lashes back. Or you should manage the privacy settings of your Facebook account so that only your friends can access it. Most people generally do not concern themselves with the privacy settings, but then they do not flame others either. Even when subjected to crude personal attacks, experienced bloggers brush aside such flaming as part of the price they have to pay for freedom of expression on the Internet.

The Xiaxue episode started when the Facebook page of Temasek Review ran pictures of her and her two friends, taken from her blog without permission, and invited people to caption them. The mudslinging from the men came fast and furious. Xiaxue was called a 'stupid bimbo', a 'whore' and a 'cheap b****'. That was when Xiaxue, herself notorious for writing profanity-strewn posts, came fighting back in a more than entertaining way.

There should be more civility in cyberspace, so that more healthy discussions can take place. The chatter online is now far from dignified. This recent shootout, and the fact that Xiaxue is a celebrity blogger in Singapore because she stoops to the rude and crude, indicate that change for the better will be a challenge. But a start has to be made.

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