Singaporeans react to Donald Trump.

At the confluence of three events in the past 20 hours, discourse on Presidential Candidate Donald Trump was trending on Singaporean social media: 1) Trump claimed that Singapore is among the Asian countries committing the “greatest jobs thefts” from the US; 2) Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the next Presidential Elections in multiracial Singapore will be “reserved” for Malay candidates; 3) A journalist who grew up in Singapore and now works in the US penned a semi-viral article about how “Donald Trump is the embodiment of everything Singapore taught me to fear about democracy“.

How are these events connected, and how have Singaporeans reacted? I trace some coverage in the Singapore media landscape and focus on Facebook reactions on a dedicated post by mainstream English language newspaper The Straits Times on Trump’s assertion. Images were screengrabbed at 2300hrs-2315hrs, 8 November 2016, GMT+8. This post was penned at 0600hrs, 9 November 2016, GMT+8. Continue reading Singaporeans react to Donald Trump.

#thoughtsandprayers, Grief hype-jacking, and Saturation fatigue

It’s been an agonising series of weeks after a string of grievous events in various parts of the world. While I have been tracing vernacular responses to global grieving events on Instagram since 2014 – some of the case studies are archived here – this has been difficult to do of late between my personal loss and the onslaught of public grieving. Self-care first, right?

Of late, global tributes on trending hashtags have been featuring a more prominent disdain for, rejection of, and critique on public grieving in memes and thoughts&prayers en masse.



In this post, I trace the #thoughtsandprayers hashtag on Instagram and the content posted for a ten-day period between 10 July 2016 and 19 July 2016. Screengrabs were taken on 19 July 2016, 1700hrs, GMT+8.


As the site of the most recent tragedy, #PrayForNice featured prominently on the #thoughtsandprayers stream.

Many of these tributes were similar to those from #PorteOuverte in November 2015.

Other recent events were also on the stream, such as the Baton Rouge shootings,


the Istanbul attacks,

and the Orlando massacre.

Public grieving

Similar to the emblems catalogued in earlier #PrayForX streams, #thoughtsandprayers featured users adopting celebrity icons to promote their cause,

sharing inspirational messages,

and documenting symbols of solidarity such as remixed cartoons, posters, religious statues, and allusions to loss.

Publicity grieving

Although there was less evidence of overt spam and self-promotional material on #thoughtsandprayers as compared to the earlier #PrayForX streams, some users who were expressing grief and support still used selfies usually unrelated to the event, carefully postured artful poses of themselves, and throwback holiday photographs of affected sites to signpost their solidarity.

Saturation and Satire

Above all, saturation fatigue regarding the newest onslaught of passive “internet solidarity” and satirical remixes of #thoughtsandprayers were displayed in brilliant comics.

At times, users adopted the persona of a higher power/presence to portray angry or humorous responses.

Some users adopted the #firstworldproblems approach to expose the casualness and frivolity at which people were jumping on the #thoughts&prayers bandwagon.

Other users simply displayed their outright rejection of users sprouting #thoughtsandprayers on social media, alluding to a displaced sense of pseudo-activism, and inflated impression of aid, and a general ineffectiveness despite participation in a highly visible and populist activity that still promotes passive solidarity from a distance.

A handful of users mobilised #thoughtsandprayers as a meme to shed light on ineffective political governance and leadership, and the cyclic routine of public grieving.

Critical irony

Speaking of memes, users are also using #thoughtsandprayers in an ironic manner to display contempt for developments in politics, and in a humorous manner to express tongue-in-cheek suggestions to better the state of political participation.

Personal grief

Global grief events aside, a small pool of users use #thoughtsandprayers sincerely when posting about personal loss or hardship. Although these images are publicly-accessible on the #thoughtsandprayers stream on Instagram, it was not immediately clear if these users intended for their images to circulate in the mass outpour of grief and signposting of solidarity. Because the content of their images seemed personal, I have pixelated the faces featured. Interestingly, the only four examples of this during the period I tracked exclusively featured children.

Grief hype-jacking

Based on my work on global grief events, I have developed a register of visual tropes most viable for social media virality during social movements, or what I term a “grief aesthetic” on Instagram. The most prominent of these include national landmarks of cultural significance to the grief event, emblems borrowed and redesigned from a lexicon of political statements such as coloured ribbons, and #PrayForX typography. (full paper to come)

The concepts of “public grieving” and “publicity grieving” are based on my recent talks at the Asia Research Institute (ARI) and Tembusu College this March. (See event archives here:  Homo Sapiens, Mortality and the Internet in Contemporary Asia Tembusu STS Seminar: Reflections and Discussion.) In particular, my paper for the ARI workshop, “Human failure for $how: Influencers, empathetic reciprocity, and commodified grief”, has been commissioned for a journal article and a book chapter.

In these works and at AoIR2016 this October, I will be exploring the shift from “public grieving” to “publicity grieving” and introducing the phenomenon of “grief hype-jacking”:

While the “grief aesthetic” elements on Instagram have emerged as vernacular norms of acceptable “public grieving” visibility practices, some users tap into this global current of attention in less palatable ways.

In “public grieving”, users sincerely partake in a global expression, narrative, and dialogue of a grief event through the use of high visibility trending hashtags.

But in “publicity grieving”, users opportunistically harness the attention currency of high visibility trending hashtags to promote themselves (i.e. to invite ‘likes’ or ‘followers’), their brand (i.e. to improve their public persona, especially for Influencers), or their wares (i.e. to market a product or service through product placement, advertorials, or spam).

I term this phenomenon of bandwagoning on public tributes and high visibility hashtags “grief hype-jacking”, as users wrestle to (mis)appropriate highly public channels of collective grief for self-publicity. Perhaps it is for this reason that the backlash against #PrayForX and #thoughtsandprayers memes has been growing.

More on “grief aesthetics” and practices of “grief hype-jacking” another time.

How do you feel about public grieving and publicity grieving in response to global tragedy? Have you experienced saturation fatigue yourself? What other things have you noticed about the rampant use of thoughts&prayers?

Feel free to beep or write to me.

Over and out,

Instagram reacts to the Brussels attacks.

A quick thematic capture of the emergent vernacular responses to the attacks in Brussels on Instagram, via the #Brussels and #Bruxelles hashtags, at 8 hours post-attacks. Screengrabs captured on March 22, 2016, 2220hrs, GMT+8.

1) Tin Tin as a “symbol of solidarity“.


2) The Manneken Pis responds with “piss and love”.


3) Other grieving geographies respond with empathy.


4) National colours are on display.


5) Artworks abound.


6) And in usual ‘grief hype-jacking’* fashion, spam and commercial advertising creep in.


*conceptual paper on ‘grief hype-jacking’ in progress. 

See also Instagram during
#JeSuisAhmed and #CharlieHedbo,
and #OccupyCentral.

Over and out,

The First Hour Post-#JakartaBlasts on Instagram.

On 14 January 2016 at 1155hrs (GMT+8), the first of several bomb blasts (and later, gun battles on the street) took place in Jakarta outside a Starbucks coffee shop in Sarinah, Thamrin, Jakarta.

(Rolling report from The Guardian here. Timeline of “extremist attacks” in Indonesia here.)

Although international news outlets are now (2300hrs, GMT+8) mainstreaming the “#JakartaBlasts” hashtag on Twitter, in the very earliest hour, vernacular emergence of hashtags on Instagram differed.

I track the initial hashtags that emerged on Instagram from (primarily) Indonesian users (based on brief user bios, language used, and context given) between 1200hrs and 1330hrs, and handcode the earliest Instagram posts.

Screenshots taken from public Instagram hashtag streams on 14 January 2016, 1300hrs, GMT+8.



The first hashtags that emerged were the usual social movement tropes in the form of #PrayForX and the #Locale of the incident. #PrayForJakarta and #PrayForIndonesia debuted alongside #Sarinah and #SarinahThamrin.

The next were #JagaJakarta (take care Jakarta), #SaveJakarta, #StaySafeJakarta, and #SaveIndonesia.

#KamiTidakTakut (I am not afraid), #JakartaUnderAttack, and #DoaUntukJakarta (pray for Jakarta) were the last to emerge in the first hour.

Several high circulating posts on social media have asserted that Indonesians are primarily using the #KamiTidakTakut tag to express solidarity and their stand during this incident.

However, Instagram posts on this tag predate the Jakarta Blasts by months. In the first hour post-blast, there were only 222 Instagram posts on the #KamiTidakTakut tag, of which only 6 were related to the Jakarta Blasts. Most of the earlier posts were in relation to sporting events.



There were four main categories of PrayForJakarta posts.

The first was text posts bearing “PrayForJakarta” in various fonts.

The second was “PrayForJakarta” text against images of the blasts.

The third was “PrayForJakarta” text against images of the Indonesian landmarks.

The fourth was “PrayForJakarta” text with artwork or photography.

Monumen Nasional

Monumen Nasional (Monas) became the iconic Jakarta emblem to circulate during the incident.

Monas was photographed in daylight,

at night time,

and beautifully illustrated.

National Icons

Well-wishes and prayers were captioned under Jakarta’s iconic cityscape,

the Indonesian flag,

and tigers.

Live Media Coverage

Like in recent disasters, a vast majority of posts were reposts from live media coverage.

This included photographic captures of television screens,

screenshots of news websites,

and screenshots from Twitter.

Live Ground Coverage (trigger warning)

Most strikingly, several Instagram posts featured what appeared to be eye-witness accounts at the site of the blast. This included aerial views of the traffic, bloodied victims, damaged concrete, and stray photographers.

Mixed reactions

Smaller thematic streams presented mixed reactions.

Some of these were anti-terrorist sentiments,

some were messages of resilience and anger,

while others were selfies with captions bearing prayers or tributes.

But perhaps the most troubling were seemingly opportunistic posts jumping onto the hashtag bandwagon, in order to market wares or attract traffic to their Instagram accounts.

A handful of backdated posts, like the following, were even edited to include trending hashtags to increase visibility.


As with most disasters and social movements, reactions to the Jakarta Blasts also borrowed from broader global emblems such as:

The peace sign,

The ribbon,


Keep Calm,

and prayer.

Curiously, a handful of Instagram posts also featured animations of bombs, akin to the rifles of #CharlieHedbo.

See also Instagram during
#JeSuisAhmed and #CharlieHedbo,
and #OccupyCentral.

Over and out,

Quick thoughts on #SanBernardino on Instagram.

Wish I could track #SanBernardino on Instagram today, but am tied up conferencing. Here are quick observations as of 0724hrs GMT+11:

Instagrams are 90% screen grabs of Internet and television news reports. Much regramming of bloodied victims, police in action, headlines.

Unlike #PorteOuverte in which users were quick to repost romantic images of Paris from their travels – As if to say “I’ve been there, I know you, I feel you, I share your sorrow.”

Unlike #CharlieHedbo in which pencil and French memes were quick to surface – As if to say “French liberties must be protected, the paper was an institution, we must unite as a profession and as a country.”

Unlike yellow umbrellas and teargas masks quick to surface on #OccupyCentral – As if to say “The reactionary violence is overstated, we are non-violent, we are everyday, we unite in solidarity under a shared vision.”

No iconic landscape, meme, face of victims/attackers, one-liner adage for #SanBernardino yet. Some possible speculations why.

1) Too many shootings annually in the US. Attention fatigue. Compassion fatigue. Unable to mark event as distinct from others.

2) No widely held American icon of romanticism. Maybe the Statue of Liberty? But unsure if this was about freedoms. Any localized landmark in California?

3) Early discourse of events being shaped and disseminated by press. Few vernacular accounts or live citizen-journalism style social media posts.

4) People are going past mourning over loss but rather reacting more towards big picture, systemic issues like gun laws.

End of quick thoughts.