With so many aspiring to be a social media influencer these days, the numbers here have burgeoned in recent years, with many flooding our social media space with their carefully curated posts, well-coiffed hair and impeccable style.
Hold your brickbats though. Say what you will about this group of social media-savvy individuals, it’s undeniable that some of them have a celebrity-like status and yield quite a bit of influence, especially among younger audiences.
Of course, there’s no shortage of sagas when there’s that many of them. While most of these trendsetters are in the spotlight for the right reasons, some unfortunately end up gaining notoriety after landing themselves in undesirable situations. From scuffles among themselves to sexual harassment accusations and photoshop fails, there’s plenty to talk about.
Here are nine Singapore influencer scandals in recent history that have rocked your social media feed:
Popular socialite Jamie Chua, known for her large collection of Hermes bags which she stores in her luxurious wardrobe, drew flak when she posted an Instagram Story that was deemed “insensitive” by netizens. On April 21, she posted a snapshot of a cup of coffee with a caption complaining about waking up in the middle of night by a “disturbing nightmare”, which involved “the Indian workers dorm and they were all rushing into my house”. She went on to say that she has been affected by the “recent cases” and is “suffering from mild anxiety”.
The post was criticised for being insensitive towards migrant workers. She subsequently posted a lengthy apology on Instagram Story that evening, saying that she realised her post was “insensitive and ignorant”, and calling the incident “a big learning lesson”. Jamie also highlighted that she would be donating to two charities that support migrant workers.
The queen bee of influencers, Wendy Cheng or Xiaxue (@xiaxue), once started an uproar after she raised questions on transparency and authenticity, pointing fingers at some influencers for being involved in a multi-level marketing (MLM) scheme. The products involved are beauty products such as shampoo, hair oil, facial masks and collagen jelly from relatively unknown brands such as Wowo and Luxurious Queen (LQ) Singapore.
Xiaxue debated the ethics of advertising, stressing that she feels it’s wrong for influencers to advertise these products and claim that it’s their “honest opinion” when they benefit from the sale. She also said consumers had a right to know that the posts were ads, and went on to poke fun at some of the products’ claims.
“Next thing you know, Wowo can solve the Syrian crisis,” she joked. The distributors — some of whom are well-known personalities such as Hong Qiu Ting (@bongqiuqiu), Tammy Tay (@ohsofickle) and Donna Goh (@ponyyzz) — later came out to debunk claims that these are MLM products. They said they are actually doing direct selling, and they are only selling the products because they personally love them.
Influencer Christabel Chua (@bellywellyjelly) was left red in the face after her private sex videos with ex-boyfriend of four years and fellow YouTuber Joal Ong were leaked and disseminated without her consent. Christabel was not the only one — more than 50 sex tapes belonging to Joal were purportedly released, with some containing his trysts with other influencers as well.
The videos went viral and were feverishly discussed in forums, with many drawing similarities between Joal and Hong Kong star Edison Chen (who had intimate photographs of him with various women, including actresses, leaked).
Christabel later wrote an open letter, which was published in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, acknowledging how the incident had left her “scared, humiliated, violated”. She became the subject of lewd discussions and received rude and inappropriate messages. To her, “the Internet became a major source of pain and torment”, she shared.
She went on to say that she stands against cyber bullying and sexual harassment, and hopes that those going through a similar situation will reach out to those around them and find strength to carry on. Joal has since shut down all his social media accounts.
The founder of SgInstaBabes came under fire in August 2018 after he offered access to a group of teenage girls in a controversial membership programme that required monthly payments of up to S$5,000. A former bodybuilder, Lai Wee Kiat launched the programme on the website Patreon, promising subscribers photos of the girls in his SgInstaBabes collective in revealing outfits such as bikinis. He also said they would be able to join them on private yacht parties.
His initiative drew sharp rebuke, with many pointing out that this was akin to social escort services. Others were concerned about the age of the girls involved and questioned whether the programme would put them at risk of sexual exploitation.
Xiaxue, one of his most vocal critics, went on to allege that he had exchanged inappropriate messages with a 15-year-old girl. In a series of screenshots she posted in her Instagram Stories, a man can be seen cajoling a 15-year-old to send him bikini photos, and had described her as “crazy hot”. He also tried to ask her out on a date.
SgInstaBabes’ Instagram and Patreon page were taken down shortly after the backlash. Wee Kiat said in reports that there was “nothing sleazy about it” and “there is nothing beyond partying and fun”, adding that events under the membership programme would be held in groups. He later said if the page were to go live once again, he would no longer be in charge.
Known for collaborating with local Instagram influencer Andrea Chong, Daryl Aiden Yow (@darylaiden) found himself in hot water in June 2018 after Mothership outed him for taking stock photos, or photos from other sources, doctoring them, and then implying or claiming that they were his own. What’s more, these photos appeared as both paid and unpaid content.
Mothership’s post sparked an Internet storm, leading fellow influencers, photographers and netizens to weigh in on the saga, denouncing his behaviour and criticising the quality of his Photoshopped work. A hashtag #darylaidenchallenge also emerged — a hilarious parody feed that shows cheekily ‘photoshopped’ pictures of popular stock images.
Since then, Daryl has apologised, saying he was wrong to have claimed stock images and other people’s work as his own. “Having marketed myself as a photographer, I fell far short of what was expected of me and disappointed those who believed — or wanted to believe — in me. For all of that, I apologise,” he added.
A day after his apology, he deleted all photos from his Instagram account and only started posting new content again in September. He has since rebranded himself as a “Photoshop Specialist”. Good recovery.
In 2018, Elaine Heng (@elaineruimin, known as Elaine Jasmine online) caught flak after Trixie Khong, owner of local jewellery brand By Invite Only, called her out on Facebook for accepting payment and pieces of jewellery from the brand and then failing to make any posts about them.
Apparently, Elaine was engaged by Trixie for a series of sponsored posts. After receiving the items and money, Elaine went MIA and was uncontactable for weeks, prompting Trixie to eventually ask for her money and products back. When there was still no response, so she went on to comment on an Instagram post. Elaine eventually replied and refunded everything in full.
The influencer later defended her actions in a live Instagram story, saying she didn’t follow through because she didn’t like the jewellery pieces and felt they were low quality. She claimed she told Trixie she wanted to refund the money and return the items, but payment was delayed as she was travelling extensively and had no wifi in some parts.
Since the news broke, at least two other brand owners have come out to say that they have encountered similar treatment from Elaine. She later apologised for her “unprofessional behaviour and the unhappiness” she has caused, adding that she will focus on improving her work ethic.
Chelsea Teng (@cheowster) was distraught after her visit to cafe Luxe Singapore in May 2018 turned awry. In her Facebook and Instagram posts, she detailed how she and a friend stopped by the Australian-style cafe for a quick ice-cream break and were allegedly pestered by the owner to buy a drink. “C’mon, are you just going to have ice cream? You’ve already taken pictures here, used our space – get a drink! Coffee?” he apparently said. When she told him she was heading to another cafe, he reportedly stormed away.
Before she left, he approached her and told her off, saying, “owners have rent to pay, so if you’re gonna take up space in the restaurant, you should at least get more than just a scoop of ice cream”. He later messaged her on Facebook apologising for his “outburst” and offered her and a guest a free brunch as a way of saying sorry.
Chelsea updated her post saying she was glad to hear that they’ve reflected from the mistake and would treat their customers professionally in future. A month after the spat, the restaurant announced that it has closed its doors, with reports saying it owed more than S$100,000 to its landlord and suppliers.
Youtuber and actor Eden Ang, known for acting in local drama Tanglin, was accused of sexual harassment in January 2018 by a girl who went by the name of Kuroe Kun on Facebook. In a Facebook post, she claimed that her friend, who was hired for Eden’s YouTube channel, was touched inappropriately by him. She also claimed he asked her friend to strip down to a top and underwear and her friend complied out of fear.
Fellow YouTuber and influencer Dee Kosh then came out with screenshots of texts between the girl, who was hired to be his personal assistant, and Eden. Eden allegedly asked her to “cover up” on a Tuesday, and then to “dress different” on a Wednesday. She replied that she would prefer to dress professionally on both days, to which he replied “Good girls listen to daddy”.
After the news broke, “Lilith” came forward in an Instagram post saying while there were some discrepancies in her friend’s account, Eden did touch her, even though she had repeatedly told him no. She also said she would be filing a police report. Following the hullabaloo, more came forward to accuse Eden of being inappropriate.
Model-actress Melissa Faith Yeo said Eden sent her rude messages that demanded she spend some intimate time alone with him. She also said a friend met up with him while they were in New York and he had put his hand up her skirt after he went to her apartment requesting to use the bathroom. Later, he allegedly texted her and called her “spoilt” for not having sex with him.
Former national gymnast Nicolette Lim also came out to say Eden had apparently sent her lewd messages that commented on her pubic hair and underwear. Eden posted a statement on his official Facebook and Instagram accounts saying he has reported the “hurtful and false allegations” to the police. He has remained silent on his social media accounts since.
In a move that raised eyebrows, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) partnered with more than 50 social media influencers to promote Budget 2018 on Instagram. Several posts peppered with hashtags like #SGBudget2018 and #MOFSGxStarNgage sprung up in January, with these personalities highlighting various pre-Budget feedback listening points and the REACH Pre-Budget 2018 microsite.
An MOF spokesperson said it was “an effective way to engage with youth participants”, and they had paid them in line with market rates.
However, the initiative drew mixed reactions, with many questioning the effectiveness of the campaign beyond generating awareness. Some also pointed out glaring errors and typos, such as an influencer describing MOF as (gasp) the “Singapore Government of Finance”, while others lambasted the influencers for using irrelevant photos to spread the message.
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Text: Joy Fang
This post was updated on April 29, 2020.