After gathering close to 10,000 followers on Instagram, Nanyang Junior College (NYJC) student-run meme page @nyjcmememachine shut down abruptly last Sunday. All because an individual believed that a shitpost — intentional and sometimes aggressive low-quality content, i.e. posting shittily — about the September 11 attacks was serious enough to be deemed a threat to national security.
The Straits Times reported that the page admins (identified as a group of NYJC students) have since apologized after they came under police probe, apparently over the post that was interpreted as one that intended to promote terrorism in Singapore. NYJC also noted to ST that the students have been counseled. A new Instagram page was set up with an apology post.
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The controversial meme that came under scrutiny was part of a glut of 9/11 memes that arrived on the internet (beyond just @nyjcmememachine) on the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York City. The page’s shitpost took on the spoofed format of Colin Kaepernick’s 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”.
A problematic meme that’s way too spicy beyond good taste? Sure. But on the scale of the entire internet and other terrible memes produced about 9/11 during the 17-year span since the heinous acts of terror, @nyjcmememachine’s shitpost is considerably tame. Even if it still is offensive and inappropriate.
The individual who reported the page to the police turned out to be someone who’s not even an NYJC student. ST reported that a 23-year-old undergraduate lodged the police report on grounds that it posed a threat to national security.
“We just need one person to be wayward and be self-radicalized to pose a threat to our security,” he said to ST. “It is not too far-fetched a possibility, seeing news reports all this while”.
“I want you kids to learn the hard way”
What the report missed out is the fact that dozens of other JC students and followers of local school meme pages thought the undergraduate went too far in getting the authorities involved, as much as they disagreed with the posting of the 9/11 shitpost.
On the Sayat.me anonymous feedback service on Hwa Chong Junior College’s own student-run meme page @tkk.jc, it is believed that the complainant clarified his side of the story — but the anonymity afforded through the platform makes it hard to verify if this is true. Nonetheless, the dude sure sounds like a riot at parties.
Many, many others rebutted the rant thoroughly and pointed out that getting the cops involved in a meme page might be an overreaction.
One pointed out that condescending tone does not help things at all.
The anonymous commenter got mad enough by all the responses he was getting and threatened to report the @tkk.jc to ST for some reason.
Victoria Junior College’s student-run meme page @eastcoastjc penned their own thoughts on the matter.
Page admins of prominent local meme pages who spoke to Coconuts Singapore about the matter agreed that meme pages should know better to post such controversial content on a public domain, but did not see why the complainant had to call in the police for shitposting.
“If you are willing to take the risk then you have to be prepared for the consequences,” stated one of the mods of A Better World By Memes.
“We can’t expect that everyone has the same humor as us”.
“No action taken”
In the wake of the contentious ongoings, an email was sent to Coconuts Singapore to clarify the actions of the individual who called the police on @nycjmememachine.
Claiming to be in contact with the complainant, the tipster revealed that a message was sent to the Instagram page to remove the offensive post — but no action was apparently taken.
“So he went to report to the police because this was too serious an issue to be left to chance,” a David Lim informed Coconuts Singapore.
“Yes, certain pictures are funny and we should laugh over it, but a line has to be drawn. True, you might say that he or she is too paranoid, but with the height of terrorism now, such paranoia is not unjustified. Let’s not find excuses and defend (@nyjcmemes)’s actions.”
Lim goes on to explain why the authorities have to be informed in light of the alleged indifference the Instagram page’s mods displayed.
“Sometimes, you need to blow things up and give a knee-jerk reaction so people will feel the pain and learn — only then would people treat it seriously,” Lim said.
“Not that he didn’t try informing the admins that the post was offensive. He did. And the admins were still recalcitrant and refused to take down by a certain deadline, hence going to the press was not unjustified.”
Editor’s update: Article amended to include the account by the complainant and issues with verifying the sayat.me comment.