Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Nothing to Yell about, Yahoo! - #OPavalon

On the afternoon of 6 November 2012, I was one of three members of the SG Twitterverse who made our way to Elaine Chiam's (@avalon) apartment after seeing a series of tweets that were a serious cause for concern.

While the support and concern shown on Twitter was overwhelming, an article from Yahoo! Singapore was disappointing, full of factual errors and unfortunately, widely circulated.

So let's set the story straight.

Yahoo! Singapore understands that Chiam was due to see her psychiatrist at 5:15pm later on Tuesday but got drunk, sparking the torrent of suicidal tweets. 

This is what happens when tweets are used as fact. As real as tweets may be, they must be taken in context. It is not alcohol that sparked a "torrent of suicidal tweets", it was the major depressive disorder that Yahoo! SG mentioned in their article. This is a serious, clinical condition and what happened yesterday should not be confused with a drunken tirade.

 Police arrived at her HDB flat in Ubi Avenue 1, which she shares with her mother and boyfriend, shortly after 430pm. Singapore Civil Defence Force staff was also called in to force open the door after she failed to respond to friends who had gathered outside her flat. 

This is untrue.

Firstly, Elaine's mother does not even live in the same country.

Secondly, The SCDF arrived first. SCDF then called the police, who arrived shortly after. 

Another thing worth noting is that no one came to "force open the door". The police found a side window that was unopened, one of them jumped in (quite amusingly, this was met with guffaws of approval from the rest) and opened the door from inside.

The "friends who had gathered outside" were myself, @debsho22 and @tumblenc. And we did not simply gather, we had been trying to get in for hours by the time SCDF arrived. This included talking to neighbours, checking if her bedroom windows were open from the back of the flat, trying to break into her door and windows, calling her doctor, searching the neighbourhood for her and keeping the rest of our twitter family informed. This was public on twitter because this is where the people who care and are concerned about Elaine are. Unlike other parties that chose to involve themselves, we did not do it for a story, popularity, RTs  or followers. 

Getting the police involved was our last resort, and the SCDF arrived just as we had run out of other options. Unknown to us at the time, Yahoo SG had taken a step away from their position as a news source and became personally involved by making a call to SCDF. Besides the fact that such interference identifies the news source as one that is open to manipulation for the purpose of sensationalised reporting, this brings us to what troubles us most: 

According to one of her friends who communicated with Yahoo! Singapore, Chiam was found barely conscious and is now being treated at Changi General Hospital.

There are three people who were present at the time Elaine was found. That means there were three people who would have been in a position to communicate that to Yahoo! SG, because there are three people who would have seen her level of consciousness. None of those three people spoke to Yahoo.

What probably happened is that a tweet to a concerned friend was picked up, reworded and published as fact for the story.

Twitter is public and I can't stop anyone from taking information from my feed. But don't say that we communicated with Yahoo! Singapore when we didn't. If information or a quote was required, Yahoo! could've asked us. If Yahoo! wanted to quote tweets from us, the information could've been presented as a tweet from Elaine's friend. But instead, Yahoo chose to grab the information most easily available and sell it as fact without any attempt to verify if the information was correct, accurate, or if it was at all appropriate to publish this information.

I also refer to this part of the article:

Last year in October, Chiam was rescued from another suicide attempt at Changi Beach after sending out a series of tweets describing her struggle with a “suicidal desire”.
She referred to the rescue last year when she tweeted on Tuesday, "twitter. pls.stop rescuing me. i really wan to die. i never meant for anyone to read what i type."

Do not make assumptions as to what a person refers to in a tweet. Elaine's friends on twitter always reach out to her and help her; are you sure this tweet was in reference to last year's rescue? I'm a good friend of Elaine's and I'm not sure. How is it that you are?

And finally, this:

Rather than a means to seek attention, Yahoo! understands that her tweets are used as a support network for her to alert her circle of friends whenever she feels depressed. 

I'm curious, how exactly does Yahoo! understand this? Like many of us, Elaine tweets her thoughts, feelings, fears, observations, whatever she wants to tweet. While I might agree that Twitter in general is a supportive network of friends and strangers, these tweets are not used as a means to alert us. Again, why didn't anyone stop to ask?

It is with great regret that I am forced to assume that  Yahoo! Singapore did not want to report the news; they wanted to post an exciting story as fast as they could. This was done with all journalistic integrity or dedication to at least trying (and it wouldn't have been hard) to get the facts right thrown out the window.

It more even more regrettable that this was done at the expense of my friend; Elaine, to many of us is, more than just breaking news. 


  1. Hi Rett,
    We were ex-classsmates of Elaine and just saw her at CGH. The nurses were asking us if her parents have been informed. Do you by any chance, know if Andy has managed to contact her parents?
    Randi & Pauline

  2. Hi Randi & Pauline, thanks for getting in touch. Just tweeted you! They've been informed. x