Previously, we carried an article on how The Online Citizen (TOC) refused to apologise for misleading the public. The incident involved an elderly woman with dementia and TOC tried to create the falsehood that the police was bullying the woman. Police camera footage released showed that it was untrue.
That incident showed how damaging it could be to expose the identity of a vulnerable person by posting their photos or videos on social media. When that video went viral, the privacy of the elderly woman was infringed upon. In the case of TOC, it is not right to exploit the vulnerable elderly woman to stir fake news.
Respect the privacy of vulnerable persons
Recently, Minister of State for Social and Family Development Sun Xueling urged the public to be cautious about taking photos and videos about the vulnerable and needy and posting them on social media. Exposing the identities of these people could create more stress for them.
Instead, the right way to help these people is to direct them to officers from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). This way, professional help can be given while protecting the privacy of these persons.
In a report by ST, Mr Derek Lim, head of volunteering at Homeless Hearts, recalled an incident where volunteers were called down to assist a rough sleeper who was being photographed by someone.
“The homeless man told us, ‘When people take photos or videos of us, posting them on social media with our faces shown, our families will know about us and be affected.'”
Co-founder of Homeless Hearts Abraham Yeo expressed concerns that social media posts could be exploiting rough sleepers’ circumstances instead of helping them.
“Ultimately we draw the line at what’s the agenda behind posting photos or videos of these individuals – is it to raise awareness or for people’s own agendas?” he said.
In the case of TOC, they exploited the elderly woman with dementia to frame the police. Apart from infringing on the privacy of the elderly woman, they brought unwanted attention when the video went viral. The woman became the talk of town and her family bore the brunt of hearing unclarified rumours about her.
How to truly help them
Instead of taking photos of the homeless, there are various schemes such as the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers network. By directing them to such a network, the needy may be referred to overnight community-based shelters.
Singaporeans can also refer the needy to MSF. That way, social workers can help address any underlying social issues and assist them in getting stable long-term housing. People can also contact the ComCare hotline at 1800-222-0000 to get assistance.