Meme Wars: How a young undergraduate tried to single-handedly take on local meme pages and lost

Gather around kiddos, as we chronicle a gripping tale that may not add any value at all to the ongoings of our daily lives but is full of drama, betrayal, hubris, defiance, eventual justice, and memes. A shit ton of dank memes.

The plot revolves around the battle between one overreacting individual (who thought himself a national hero) and a legion of local teenage meme makers (who just wanted to post shit on the internet for the lulz).

The welcoming

Rice Media screengrab
Rice Media screengrab

The story begins way back in August 2018, when an aspiring writer by the name of Sean Lim started to contact various student-run meme pages in Singapore — part of a big feature for alt publication Rice Media about school meme pages. Or, in his words, “How students are calling bullshit and resisting authority”.

On Aug 26, his article was published. It was a straightforward piece about the existence of meme pages started by students of various educational institutions, from secondary schools to junior colleges.  The article featured opinions and voices by the meme page admins, who were gracious enough to grant Lim interviews. It’s a pretty sacred thing to be allowed behind the scenes of meme pages, as their admins generally value their privacy and anonymity to continue posting internet humor. Especially so when it involves students delivering edgy shitposts that may not be exactly approved by their respective teachers.

In his conclusion to the piece, Lim expressed his outright approval for school meme pages. “It shows that kids are not as apathetic as we think,” he wrote. “Through social media, they are now finding creative ways to resist authority.”

The article was received pretty decently online, garnering 72 shares on Facebook and an appearance on prominent shitposting group Singapore Shitposting Constituency.

Facebook screengrab
Facebook screengrab

The conflict

On the 17th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York City, @nyjcmememachine — an Instagram meme account run by a group of Nanyang Junior College students — posted a problematic meme. The page’s shitpost took on the spoofed format of Colin Kaepernick’s famed Nike ad, but instead of the American athlete, it used a picture of Al-Qaeda founder Osama Bin Laden alongside the burning World Trade Center towers. Overlaid on the image was the text: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing 3,000 lives and two steel towers”.

Way too spicy and beyond good taste for sure, but relatively tame compared to the thousands of highly offensive 9/11 memes that can be easily found on the internet. However, one person thought that this shitpost posed an actual threat to national security, and he called the police to take action against @nyjcmememachine.

On Sept 16, the Instagram account shut down. The Straits Times reported that that the police were investigating the page after a report was lodged. Said report was made by a 23-year-old undergraduate who had this to say to ST:

“We just need one person to be wayward and be self-radicalized to pose a threat to our security. It is not too far-fetched a possibility, seeing news reports all this while”.

The revelation

A day after @nyjcmememachine went dark, the undergraduate who alerted the cops about the meme made himself known on his own Twitter account.

“Feeling accomplished that I single-handedly made the nyjc meme page — with close to 9.6k followers — close down and caused an uproar among the jc kiddos meme page community hahahaha,” he tweeted out on Sept 17, when his account was still public. It was a tweet visible to everyone back then, but at the time, nobody knew where to look.

The man who snitched? None other than Sean Lim himself, the very same individual who painted school meme pages in such a positive light. We know that this is the same Sean Lim who wrote the Rice Media article because of a link to his piece in the bio section of his Twitter account. Today, the account can no longer be found.

Twitter screengrab
Twitter screengrab

Sept 20. A new Instagram account was set up by the Nanyang JC students who ran the meme account. There was only one post — an apologetic post that begged for the forgiveness of the public for the 9/11 shitpost. This Instagram account (@nyjcmm) has since been taken down, but their post is reproduced below.

@nyjcmm
@nyjcmm

Again, we have to point out, nobody managed to establish the identity of the complainant — something Lim was absolutely gleeful about.

The anonymous feedback

It looks like Lim clarified his side of the story on the Sayat.me anonymous feedback service on Hwa Chong Junior College’s own student-run meme page @tkk.jc, — but the anonymity afforded through the platform makes it hard to verify if that is true.

The language used and the reasoning provided on by the anonymous commenter, however, appeared quite similar to Lim’s. The rebuttals to the comments agreed that @nyjcmememachine might have gone a bit too far but so did the complainant who got the cops involved.

@tkk.jc Sayat.me screengrabs
@tkk.jc Sayat.me screengrabs
@tkk.jc Sayat.me screengrabs
@tkk.jc Sayat.me screengrabs

In the wake of our report on the brouhaha, an email was sent to us by a person claiming to be a friend of the complainant. According to this friend, the complainant actually sent a message to @nyjcmememachine to take down the offensive post, but no action was taken. This, apparently, justified a police report and going to the media to “blow things up” for people to treat the matter seriously.

The ignition

On Sept 21, not long after ST published an updated report on how Nanyang JC is handling the matter, an explosive post appeared on Singapore Shitposting Constituency. The post — made by a person familiar with Lim and his private social media postings — contained juicy screenshots of how Lim was exceedingly proud of taking @nyjcmememachine down.

The post was rightfully taken down by the administrator of the Facebook group as the disclosing of private information is prohibited to prevent doxxing. But in that short period of time when the post was still up, we managed to save the images. Though we can’t publish it here due to the nature of private social media postings, we can describe them.

  • One Instagram story put up by Lim is a screen grab of a post by @tkk.jc that bid farewell to the @nyjcmememachine page. “Day 3 and they have yet to realize that the person behind bringing them up and flushing them out is the same,” Lim wrote in an overlaid text.
  • Another Instagram story is a screen grab of the apology posted by the Nanyang JC students. “And then finally this, beaten, with knees on the ground,” Lim wrote on the overlaid text. “Still want to bay for blood. Lol. Study for your As and promos la – they are the more important things in life right now lmao”.
  • Lim puts up a snap of an ST article about the police probing @nyjcmememachine’s post on Facebook. “So… in today’s news. Apparently, someone just single-handedly flushed out the whole saga,” he wrote as its caption.
  • In another Facebook post, Lim puts up a picture of a Lianhe Zaobao article about the issue. “Will I be able to weed out these kids with the power of the press? I was reading the insta meme page and they are waging a war with the person who exposed them (aka me but they didn’t know it is me). Well, heads will roll, but I rather get these kiddos ‘killed’ by nipping this in the bud, than potentially someone getting radicalized, start detonating bombs here and there and get people really killed”.

The gathering

Photo illustration
Photo illustration

Not wanting to spark an online witch hunt by publishing Lim’s personal information in public, we kept the revelation to ourselves and the meme page admins we were already in touch with. A giant Telegram chat group was created that same evening containing a whole host of admins from local meme pages, including school meme pages. They soon knew about the identity of the complainant responsible for taking down @nycjmememachine, and they responded with absolute fury. They did, after all, believe that he was on their side thanks to that glowing article he wrote. One school meme page admin said that they should have known better to trust Rice Media, which he described as “snakes”.

Nonetheless, an agreement was made — nobody was allowed to reveal Lim’s identity on any of their public platforms. As much as everyone was shocked and disgusted by Lim’s betrayal, nobody wanted a doxxing.

At the same time on Reddit’s Singapore subreddit, a post was made with our article in discussion. Commenters who managed to establish Lim’s identity were already putting up links to his Twitter account, which, at that point in time, was public. The discussion became close to a witch hunt, and that’s probably why the thread has since been locked.

Sometime after 2am that morning, Lim’s Twitter account was turned private.

The gloating

ST screengrab
ST screengrab

Lim continued to salt the wounds. After managing to “single-handedly” take down @nyjcmememachine, he pretended to have not been involved in the matter and wrote a letter to the Straits Times Forum to express his shock. The little rant that was published on Sept 22 even had his full name.

“I am aghast at the revelations that some Nanyang Junior College students posted questionable content on Instagram recently,” he wrote, as if he he played no part in instigating the scandal. Again, he expounded in great detail why the 9/11 shitpost is dangerous and how it could contribute to self-radicalization.

Basically, it’s the same thing the anonymous commenter on @tkk.jc’s Sayat.me wrote about.

The exposure

On Sept 23, Mothership became the first to publicly identify Sean Lim as the person who reported the meme to the cops. With that information made public, the floodgates were opened, and rabbit season was officially on.

Unburdened with the responsibility of outing his identity, meme pages and shitposters were free to let loose with parodies. Folks joined in the fray.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Can’t win an argument with logic? Jut call the police!

A post shared by Kiasu Memes (@kmfst_) on

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Is this gonna get reported too

A post shared by SUTD Memes (@changicollege) on

SSC Facebook screengrab
SSC Facebook screengrab

A new meme page even popped up in a tribute to Lim. It’s called Offending Memes For Offended 23 Year Old Teens.

Folks familiar with Lim chimed in with their own thoughts on the man, who doesn’t seem to be well-liked in real life.

SSC Facebook screengrab
SSC Facebook screengrab
SSC Facebook screengrab
SSC Facebook screengrab

The fall

Lim's apology.
Lim’s apology.

Some of the memes revolving around Lim, however, were a little too close for comfort as they contained subtle hints of intimate information about him. He went around messaging various meme pages asking the admins to take the memes down, even threatening them to make police reports (his weapon of choice) against them.

By Sept 25, Lim seemed beaten, with knees on the ground. He posted a long, wordy piece expressing his regret over being condescending and pleaded for people to stop “conducting mob-justice” against him. But to be honest, the whole thing reads as if he was sorrier that folks found out who he was than being genuinely sorry for anything he had done.

Multiple attempts to contact Lim did not result in getting a response, so just read what he had to say for himself below.


Dear followers,

I think some of you might know what has happened by now, on my role in the meme saga. If you are well-read, you might have realized that my identity has been exposed, and it is viral online. So I would like to make a clarification here, so that this entire episode can stop and we can move on, and prevent falsehoods from happening.

The jury is still out on whether the meme per se was appropriate – some, supported my position and felt it was a no-go; some, felt I didn’t have a sense of humor was wrong to target that meme. That’s fine – in the world, there isn’t a singular answer. We can have disagreements.

My stand on how the meme was inappropriate still remains – just as how some of you feel similarly otherwise. Disagreements remain, and that’s fine. Perhaps I have been misinterpreted, just like how some argued that I have misinterpreted the meme. The world does not exist in a singular colour. That’s normal. The way I handled it, how I handled it – could have improved. But I acknowledge I could have done better in handling this issue.

Bragging about it and generating more anger to the community was something that should not have happened, and I apologise for that. The show of arrogance, strong words I used, pitching myself on a high moral horse, etc. – was not appropriate and for that I am sorry. Because of such behavior, it has thwarted my original intention of creating awareness on an important issue, i.e. to say national security, and also cause discomfort to whoever was affected by the whole saga.

I look forward to further discussions with everyone, on issues that matter. It is important that we agree to disagree, so that we can have a fruitful discourse.

I am doing this because it has come to my attention that the online realm has been conducting mob-justice on me, and that is definitely not funny esp when the privacy and safety on my friends and family are concerned. I do not know who are the ones behind the digging – I definitely do not condone that – but I do hope we can stop, remove those unpleasant posts, and we move on to something better. More funny memes, perhaps, to bring more laughter into our lives? Let’s focus on the issue, be critical about it, agree or disagree about it. But let’s not resort to ad hominen attacks, stalking and unnecessary CSI – it is inappropriate, just like some of my actions were inappropriate on certain fronts too.

Let’s all learn better through this saga – on my part, learn how to handle communication better; and on everyone else’s part, have greater awareness on OB markers in the things we post online. Let us be more careful when we do things online.

Please circulate this clarification (in full) so the air can be cleared and hopefully, appease most people – who have been mad about my actions – and reduce any animosity between me and whoever. And hopefully, stop any more retribution/mob justice that is going on (friends of the media, please seek permission before quoting, thx).

Finally, if I had made you unhappy in this episode, can I ask that we be friends once again?

Thanks. Peace out.

Best, Sean

P.s: I do not have anything against memes as a whole. In fact, I think they are quite well done. And I did an article on it previously, commenting on how it can be used for useful purposes. It was only that meme that I found inappropriate (you can disagree), but I still love memes as a whole <3

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