Some internet users are embedded with a special microchip that wirelessly connects their keyboards to the ugliest recesses of their brains – bypassing common sense and conscience. This technology enables superfast uploading of comments, both vile and juvenile. With very little effort, it inflates the user's ego and gives 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 stay on the moral high ground. They have learnt to brush aside such flaming as just one of those things – the price we have to pay for freedom of expression on the internet.
Popular blogger Xiaxue 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.
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 generally safe assumptions), and that he or she therefore won't descend to an eye-for-an-eye online shootout.
I don't follow her blog, and what little I know of it tends to fill me with despair. This is an admittedly elitist perspective, but the fact that more Singaporeans read her than, say, Yawning Bread, Diary of a Singaporean Mind, Siew Kum Hong or Rambling Librarian doesn't say much for the discernment of Singaporean internet users.
But there is something to be said for the way Xiaxue handles herself in the rough and tumble of cyberspace.
Temasek Review posted a photo of her and her girlfriends on its Facebook wall, inviting readers to provide captions. Predictably, the exercise generated a number of off-colour remarks at her expense. Less predictably, she reached behind some of the vile comments and plucked out a couple of fine specimens of Singaporean manhood for all to see.
Relying on the men's own public Facebook profiles, she revealed details like their ages and occupations along with rather 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."
Then there was the guy 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 underaged hookers, apparently assuming that his comments would remain in the underground world of TR'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 (apparently 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 today's Straits Times, the 35-year-old engineer sputtered that she had it coming, because she did not dress conservatively enough. 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 Xiaxue's husband.
Xiaxue's final shot: "Maybe you will think twice before you call somebody a whore next time, huh?"
The wimp that I am, I would probably still opt for the less gangster-ish approach to online attacks. But perhaps there is a place for Xiaxue's blazing-guns response in parts of cyberspace where civility cuts no ice. 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."
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