Ten cringeworthy social media terms I loathe using (guilty as charged)

1. Gone viral: Everyone drops this term very loosely these days. Any video/post/tweet that receives even the tiniest more attention than usual has “gone viral”. Viral comes from the word virus that denotes an infection. Infections make you ill and connotes negativity. You don’t give someone Ebola or H1N1 intentionally or consciously. But a “viral video” is shared consciously — noted, sometimes without careful examination or thought — and it may or may not be negative. Relating it to an infection just makes it cringeworthy. I prefer “shareable”, but I know that’s never going to stick. Perhaps, the word “popular” will do.

2. Monetize eyeballs: When a print editor drops this bomb I know he’s gone over to the dark side. He thinks it’s hip, but it’s so 1990s. We used to be called readers. Now we’re just eye sockets with dollar signs in editors’ irises. You’re a “pageview” or a “unique” for which a commercial value must be extracted. Which brings us to…

3. Traffic: “Viewership” and “readership” seem to have a nice, stately, cruiseshippy connotation. Traffic just connotes jams, smog, anxiety and roadrage. It suggests we humans are just being herded into some corral like farm animals. “We need to bring in more traffic and monetize those eyeballs”, says Mr Marketeer. Urghh.

4.Engagement: Nice word. It’s a step up from sleeping together but just shy of taking the plunge. But in Mr Marketeer’s parlance, a unique visitor (he visits, he doesn’t read, view, or listen) is considered “engaged” when he @tags, shares, comments or likes your last post on a friend’s funeral. “To calculate the ER (engagement rate), take the total PTAT (people talking about this) and divide by the total number of likes.” Sounds like a mathematical formula to derive whether the couple will eventually get hitched or not.

5. New Media: It isn’t new anymore. The net has been with us since 1969. The web since 1990. It is hard to call something new anymore when it’s old.

6. Social media: Put the word “social” in front of anything and it will sell. I should know. I train people on social media marketing, social media journalism, social media crisis. In fact they’ve even dropped the word media: it’s social marketing, social selling, social business. Social business, you say? I say, oxymoron.

7. Hyperconnected: Seriously, this was the theme for a major political party’s forum “A Hyperconnected World: Challenges in Nation Building” in 2014. So someone thought the word hyper is still sexy. It isn’t. In this article, they even mention that we live in an “era where dissemination is at warp-speed”. “Aye, aye captain. Shall we add some hype to that too and sprinkle it with hyperlinks.” Anything prefixed with hyper eg: hypermarket, is just hyperbole, and sounds so dated. The word hyper needs to vanish from our vocabulary just like the triangular ship in the arcade game Asteroids when we hit the Hyperspace button.

8. Smartphone: The phone’s smart. And we aren’t? Some friends still feel obliged to send me XXX videos via WhatsApp making the phone a smutphone. We went from handphone to featurephone to smartphone. What’s next hyperphone? Noooo.

9. Bleeding-edge: Beyond the leading-edge? Really? Come on. That seemed cool to say like in 1999. Now it just sounds creepy and macabre.

10. Listicle: defined as “an article on the Internet presented in the form of a numbered or bullet-pointed list”. Sounds like a list to me. Why “listicle” when “list” will do? Was it merged with “popsicle” = sweet lists you can lick or like? Or perhaps it derives from testicle = lists with some gonads? Or maybe it’s a combo of list and tickle. Which makes this, if you came this far, one of them.

A wedding speech from 2011

Here’s a wedding speech to my niece and her hubby, which I thought was safe to release after three years:

SHEILA AND VELAN, WEDDING SPEECH, May 21, 2011.

I am here on behalf of the bride’s family, my niece Priscilla Sheila Tangaraja. I’ve been to many weddings but I have never seen a more beautiful and radiant bride then tonight. Isn’t she lovely people?

(Pause for applause)

Sheila, that dress, looks amazing on you. Of course, I am biased, and you know why.

(My wife, Anita, wore the same dress 18 years ago at our wedding.)

What a great year to get married. Just remember you married in 2011, the same year there was a grand royal wedding, the No 1 terrorist in the world is dead and Manchester United are league champions!

Velan you’re a really lucky guy. You married Sheila, who is beautiful, smart, warm, loving and caring. She deserves a good husband, so thank god you married her before she found one.

For those of you who don’t know, I am Sheila’s uncle, the youngest brother of bride’s mother. My name is Julian.

By the way, I will be addressing the bride as Sheila – I know some of you know her as Priscilla – I’ve always known her by her middle name Sheila.

On behalf of the bride and groom’s parents, I would like to thank you all for your presence on this auspicious occasion. Some of you here have been to the previous Hindu wedding ceremony and reception. Thank you for your attendance to this 2nd wedding reception and, I understand, there is a 3rd reception tomorrow, also at this venue. I was given a choice to attend all three receptions, but because I am part Ceylonese and part Chinese, I was in a dilemma. One half wanted to go for all three receptions but the other half could only afford one angpow.

Sheila and Velan, I am glad and feel so honoured to have been the witness along with my wife Anita for your church wedding today. My wife and I have been witnesses for a number of weddings over the years. In fact, we are thinking of making it a 2nd career. Sheila and Velan you will be glad to know, all those marriages for which we were witnesses are still intact. Not a single one of those couple are divorced or separated so that bodes well for your marriage.

As in any wedding speech I feel it is incumbent upon me to impart some marital advice to the couple. I know there are many people here who are far more qualified than me in this room because we’ve married only 18 years, barely enough time to get to know each other.

I have a few lessons to impart to the groom and I hope those you who are married can support me with some loud applause.

Firstly, Velan very early in your marriage it is important to set the ground rules and establish who is boss ~ then do everything Sheila says!

Remember when you are unhappy, she’s unhappy, and when she’s unhappy — you’re probably the cause.

When I got married someone told me the best maxim for all good marriages was “Never go to bed angry.” My wife and I never go to bed angry. Instead we stay up all night and argue, until someone gives in.

But jokes aside, that’s the crux of it. Someone “giving in.” Velan, in 18 years of marriage, and I’m sure every husband in this room will agree with me on this – you can never, ever win an argument against a woman. Better to give in and give in early.

There will be days when the wife gets upset about the most trivial of things — like putting the lid down after using the toilet, or squeezing the toothpaste from the bottom up, or leaving laundry on the floor or not taking the garbage out. On days like these, you may go the whole day without talking to each other, and when you retire to that king size bed — sleeping as far away from each other as you possibly can — there will a palpable tension in the bedroom.

It is at this time, you must remember Lesson No 1: Make love, not war.

Velan, I’ll let you in on the secret to successful marriage. But, shhh, don’t tell anyone. You must know the three words that melts every woman’s heart, and has been used my husbands the world over for time immemorial.

You need to turn to Sheila, in that darkness, and say these magical three words: “You’re right dear”.

Then follow-up with another set of three words “I am wrong”, “I am sorry”, “I love you”, and the most important set of three words of all to any woman’s ear. “Let’s go shopping.” Nothing cures a woman’s pain more than the promise of some retail therapy.

Of course try saying those set of three words with more sincerity. Otherwise you’ll sound like Arnold Schwarzenegger. As you know, Arnie used his three words too often: “I’ll be back, I’ll be back, I’ll be back.” Until his wife found out whose room he was coming back from.

By the way, Velan stay away from domestic help of any kind. Especially at 5-star hotels in New York. (One day you may be the IMF chief and a French presidential candidate, next day you are sitting in jail wondering what the hell you were thinking.)

Lesson 2: Dates are very, very important to your wife. Today, for instance, is a very important date. May 21. Write it down. You cannot miss birthdays and anniversaries.

The most effective way to remember your wife’s birthday is to forget it once. Thank god for Facebook that will never happen to me. A sidenote on Facebook, Velan, you need to update your relationship status on Facebook from “it’s complicated” to happily married. Preferably by tonight!

Lesson 3: Be useful around the house. Women love husbands who can fix things. If, like me, you are useless at fixing leaky taps and changing light bulbs, then act like you know what you are doing, and when she leaves the house call a good handyman, electrician or plumber. I hear Raj, Sheila’s dad is really good at fixing things. Velan, once you’re married the level of domesticity must improve. You must find where the kitchen is and what all those mysterious objects in it do. FYI, that wet place where all the dishes end up is called the sink. The more you use it, the more Sheila will love you.

(Cut: The more things you fix around the house, the more likely you’ll get your fix that night.)

Those three lessons should be enough to sustain you for now Velan. For your information, I myself cannot remember a single piece of advice given to me at my wedding.

Okay, now Sheila’s turn. Sheila I believe you know there is someone very dear to all of us who should have been here tonight. Unfortunately, god chose to take him early. I am sure wherever he is now, he is looking down on us all tonight and wishing you the very best. Your grandfather, my father, Melvin Matthews Kanagasabai, passed on last November. You know that he had a very special place in his heart for you Sheila. I know he would be so happy for you today as much as your grandmother, your mum, your dad and all your family are too tonight.

Dad, I know you are looking down and wondering why the hell I haven’t told them your “marriage is a three-ring circus” joke. Everyone here knows it, Dad, so we’ll give it a skip this time shall we?

So here are my three lessons for the bride.

Lesson 1: Have a nice meal together, at least once a week. This may sound very easy to do now, but as time goes by, as work and family and friends and maybe even children take up your time, you will find it increasingly difficult to just find the time to sit down, by yourselves, and have a meal together. It doesn’t matter whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner or supper – just find a quiet place – and just enjoy each other’s company away from all your friends, family and workmates. It is only at these times when you can talk, really talk, and be intimate with each other.

Lesson 2: Go for at least one adventurous holiday every year or so. I suggest tonight, after Velan has fallen asleep, and you have counted all your angpow, use his credit card, get on AirAsia.com and buy some tickets girl.

By the way, don’t go on those crappy, organized tours. Create your own holiday. Go to Nepal and climb Everest, or go Africa on your own safari or take six weeks off like Anita and I did to circumnavigate North and South Island of New Zealand.

There is nothing like being in a foreign country only to get lost and find each other. I repeat, there is nothing like being in a foreign country only to get lost and find each other.

Lesson 3: Create special moments that only you and Velan can call your own. I know about those moments. I live for those moments. I remember when my son Jordan was about to be born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck, and it was touch and go for a few moments, and when the doctor finally got him out and uncurled that cord, it was mixture and relief and pure joy when we saw him change from a purplish blue hue to a healthy pink. That was a moment.

But you don’t need to have children yet to have those moments. I’ll give you another moment.

Anita and I, in the early part of our marriage took up scuba diving. For those of you who have never scuba-dived, there is something magical and comforting and incredibly peaceful being underwater among colorful coral and fish and scary moray eels. Down there, the only sounds you hear are that of your own breathing. (breathing sounds close to mike)

Once, Anita and I went for a holiday off Railay Beach in Krabi, Thailand. We wanted to dive so badly, but all the dive trips were fully booked except for a night dive. We had never done this before and it sounded scary, but we thought we’ll give it a try.

When you dive at night, they give you two torches tied around each of your wrists. So it’s quite clumsy, esp. if you have never used it before but in the darkness you are twice as focused as you can see things only by the beam of your torch.

It was a moonlit night, and we reached our divespot by longtail boat and then we dived into the inky darkness. It was really scary at first for Anita and me but we slowly adjusted.

Our divemaster took us down about 20-25 feet and after diving a bit, he turns to us and does this – (hand gesture slicing neck)

That was the sign to cut our torches. We didn’t know what to think, but he was the divemaster, we just followed as instructed.

It was pitch black at first, but then our eyes adjusted and we noticed the silhouette of our divemaster doing something strange. He was swinging his arms and legs furiously. The agitation caused bio-luminiscent plankton to light up around us. It was as if we were surrounded by stars. He then grabbed our arms and partnered us off to do underwater waltzes. It was magical, an unforgettable and very special moment for Anita and me.

Sheila and Velan, find those moments. Or at least throw yourself into situations where such moments are likely to happen. Your marriage will have ups and downs but it’s the ups you will live for, treasure and sustain you. There will be a time, when you have to switch off your torches, leave it to faith and find that you are surrounded by stars.

Lastly, I hope you will forgive for all the teasing and ribbing tonight. I wish Sheila and Velan a long and very fruitful marriage.

So please raise your glasses and say with me “To love, to laughter and to happy ever after.”

The bully in us all

On June 5, 2005, a young woman’s dog pooped onboard the Metropolitan Subway, Line 2, near Ahyun Station, Seoul, South Korea.

She was embarrassed and was offered a tissue by a fellow passenger. She cleaned her dog with it but was chastised by passengers later for refusing to do the same for the mess on the floor  – before hastily disembarking.

By then, a passenger named Miss Kim had taken her photo with a mobilephone and soon the posting went viral online.

The meme “dog poop girl”, “dog s**t girl” or 개똥녀 (gae-ttong-nyue) took a life of its own. An online all-points bulletin alert and the firestorm of criticism resulted in identification of her, her relatives, her place of work and apparently her eventually quitting.

dog poo girl
As documented by Jonathan Zittrain in ‘The Future of the Internet’:The summed outrage of many unrelated people viewing a disembodied video may be disproportionate to whatever social norm or law is violated within that video. Lives can be ruined after momentary wrongs, even if merely misdemeanors.”

The case brings to mind several other related incidents well-documented by popular sites such as Know Your Meme and Wikipedia including: Bus Uncle (Hong Kong), Christopher Lao (Philippines), Anton Casey (Singapore) and Sharifah Zohra Jabeen (Listen, listen, listen) (Malaysia).

Each case differs in the degree of the wrong-doing but the backlash of harassment, hate vitriol, ridiculing parodies, even death threats online were common to all.

In a hyper-cammed, super-amped Internet world, an online mob can quickly become judge, jury and executioner. What you say or do in a public space, online or otherwise, can and will be used against you.

Bus Uncle’s infamy may have even resulted in him being beaten up by masked men, Christopher Lao suffered a mental breakdown, Anton Casey lost his job and fled the country, and Sharifah Zohra says she feared for the safety of her family and children.

By all accounts, none of the actions of the five individuals that became online media targets are defensible.

Dog poop girl’s refusal to clean up, Bus Uncle’s profanity-laced tirade, Christopher Lao’s “whiny, obnoxious” interview, Anton Casey’s condescending tweets and Sharifah Zohra’s disparaging inanities all made us uncomfortable when measured against mature, civil society norms.

Anton Caseys offensive tweets

Above: Anton Casey's offensive tweets

We were angry, mad even. But, sadly, their bad behaviours incensed some of us enough to get on moral high-horses and bombard them with derision and death threats – reflecting our own bad behaviours online. Yes they were all wrong and deserved a reprimand but who died and made some of us infallible gods online?   (I shudder to think of the early part of my 50 years of living if a particular moment had been filmed, documented and posted online. How would I have reacted if an intensely-scrutinized single mistake became the defining moment of my entire character, career or life? How would you? )

As a young journalist, I was always worried of writing a story that would result in sources or the subjects of the story losing their rice bowls — or even their lives. Was the story more important than the resulting fallout? Would the uncertified engineers I pointed out lose their jobs? Would the undocumented immigrants I reported on be forced to return to the destitution of their home country? Would the passerby “hero” who came to the rescue of the family in a murder case be later victimized by the assailants? I was never able to reconcile that part of my job by the cliched refrain “I’m just doing my job.”

As media professionals and a community, our actions or inaction can result in a profound impact on society at large. The cliché is worth repeating: freedom of expression does come with great responsibility. If we are to mature as a society, then we have an obligation to speak up and point out what’s right, and what’s wrong — online as well as offline.  We already live in both worlds, whether we like it or not.

In my old age, as a media trainer, I try to provoke my participants into embracing all things Internet. But also, I encourage them to think of the long term implications of everything they do online that is archived in that cloud of posterity. Every post, every comment, every tweet, every photo and every video defines who you are to some future Internet archivist.

The Internet is a messy space and we have a responsibility, nay, an obligation, to bring some level of maturity of discourse in it. Just like the rest of the world. Allowing only the trolls and anonymously nasty to fill this precious resource with hate would be sad.

Everyone of us relishes our privacy to some extent,  but that shouldn’t be the one thing that holds you back from sharing all the value you can add to the conversation. In fact, you should be in it because you care enough to effect the changes you want to see online.

If this knowledge freezes you, makes you stick your head in the sand and stay offline from any social network, then you have chosen to disengage with the very society you are a part of. And that’s a true loss for everyone.

(The caveat: I know for some it can be hard. A woman who was the victim of an abusive marriage told me she could never go online for fear her ex would trace her every move.  “Be yourself” is easy to say — but being yourself in a hyper-documented, super-shareable world calls for real gonads for some. )

So, did the five “victims” survive their 15 minutes of online infamy? Bus Uncle apparently asked to be paid for media interviews and tried to organize a “Bus Uncle Rave” which never happened. No word on Dog Poop Girl, Anton Casey or the Listen, Listen, Listen lady, who are quietly fading away, perhaps to their own relief, into the obscurity they came from.

Christopher Lao, in a 2012 report, finally returned to university to complete his Bar exam, become a lawyer and an advocate against cyberbullying.

In the interview he says:

“The level of bullying that I experienced can affect anyone’s confidence. I was always crying every day and I feared that I could not move on and could not fulfill my duties as a parent, even.”

Lao says his perspective changed, however, when he started to “detach” himself from material comforts and stopped giving excessive value to his reputation. “Reputation is very limiting because it boxes us. We are scared of failure because (of this). I was no longer afraid of failure…I was done with reputation, I was done with that,” said Lao, who went under medication due to the cyber-bullying he endured.

“I asked myself, ‘Why am I not gonna take this Bar? Only because people might again derive joy from my potential failure?’ I’m done with that. They’ve said whatever they want. I just said, ‘It’s time to do things that will make my loved ones proud, myself proud, the Lord proud. I figured that I was able to wake up every day because I felt that I was worth something.”

Links:

  1. Internet trolls really are horrible people
  2. A tale of defeat, resolve and all-out war against bullying

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