Wednesday, January 6, 2016

One does not simply undo the damage of a wrong choice of word


The journalist who wrote the article ‘Youth volunteers get cash grants from GIC’ may have regretted her decision to use the word ‘volunteer’ as a headline to describe GIC's social impact programme (using GIC's own words here), or more accurately a mentorship-training programme for financially needy youths who are pursuing their post-secondary education.

The first paragraph of the Straits Times did not help either, further fueling perception that the youths are paid to volunteer by describing one aim of the programme as “to encourage youth volunteerism by offering cash grants”.

GIC has stepped up to clarify that the programme is not paid volunteerism (‘GIC scheme not paid volunteering’) but I suspect the damage has been done. The original Facebook post by ST garnered 677 shares at the time of writing, while the Facebook post on GIC's response only have a measly 15 shares so far. Even then, you still have people arguing about the semantics of volunteering in the comments section of the second post, when the title of the article is screaming obviously that the scheme is not a paid volunteering scheme.

People just don't read the article, do they? (Source)

Some don't even bother about the headline (Source)

There are many more examples like this, but I think I'll stop here (Source)

The funny thing is, nowhere in the GIC website or NTU, SMUSIT and SUTD page did the word ‘volunteer’ appear. It is also worth noting that the scheme is only available to students who have a household income of less than $2,000, with the aim of equipping them with counselling and leadership skills and pairing them up with younger disadvantaged as role models and mentors.

It's a great programme, to be honest, that aims bring about a win-win situation for the participant/mentors (not volunteers) and mentees/beneficiaries. It's just one writer who decided to use the word ‘volunteer’ that generated this amount of backlash against a well-intentioned scheme.

The funnier thing, however, is how despite the subsequent clarification and the easily available information online (where people can look it up and decide whether the programme is worth the merits), people still chose to bash the programme.

It shows that when people already feels strongly towards something, they would generally stick to their opinions. In this case, that GIC and by extension, the government is doing something wrong. And even with subsequent clarifications and available information, it does little to change their initial stance.

It also proves interestingly how in an age where we are constantly bombarded with information (I had to scroll several minutes to reach the post on ST's FB page), we tend to make quick judgment based on easily available information, such as the headline or previous feelings. Which explains why we still have a long way to go on debates on important issues, such as climate change and vaccination, because just making information available isn't going to change someone's beliefs. You have to go deeper than that.

Of course, we are far from figuring how to tackle this issue and unless someone figures out how to do it, we'll still be stuck in our own sphere of beliefs, arguing it out on the internet. In the meantime, be sure to check your source materials carefully before writing about them, or the response could be quite unpleasant.

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