Yesterday the topic de jour was our Prime Minister (PM) feeling faint as he delivered his annual National Day Rally (#ndrsg).
— TODAY (@TODAYonline) August 21, 2016
Like many others, I was relieved to learn that our PM was right as rain after a rest and check up.
However, before that I observed how quickly rumours spread. I was able to compare what happened on YouTube ‘live’ chat, WhatsApp, and Twitter.
I did not appreciate the low resolution Flash-based video stream at TODAYonline, so I headed to YouTube instead (no URLs as these are short-lived). The chat there, if you can call it that, was largely infantile. Single-worded texts like “clap” and “fap” and the occasional ad were common enough for me to collapse the scrolling chat area.
WhatsApp was no better. I heard from people who propagated the rumour that PM had suffered a stroke while on stage. There was no attempt to verify. It was as if there was a contest to see who could hurl the juiciest head of lettuce to the front.
I checked Twitter and found an “expert” offering his diagnosis.
I cannot speculate if this was rumour agent zero, but this did not stop the tweeter from being a speculative couch doctor.
With the exception of a few cruel tweets, most of the other tweets were questions like “What happened?” and expressions of concern.
My contribution was simply this:
Keep calm and let's not speculate or spread rumours. Wait for official word. #ndrsg
— Dr Ashley Tan (@ashley) August 21, 2016
This reminded me again of Jon Stewart’s advice on his final show: If you smell something, say something. I also thought of Howard Rheingold’s “crap detection”.
Speaking of Twitter, the Grammar Nazi in me could not help but notice this tweet.
I have mentioned before how writing copy is vital, particularly in short form. “Faint” is not the same as “feint”. Saying “it was a feint” is to imply that PM was pretending to feel unwell.
I give the tweeter the benefit of the doubt and suggest that is not what she meant. But if you mean something, say it right.
The immediacy of social media does not mean that we have to immediately say something. The adage goes: Better to be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.
In the age of ubiquitous information, perhaps the saying could be: Better to be thought an idiot than to tap away and broadcast for all to see.