Driving change through humour and heart

25 Feb 2019

By Rexanne Yap


A HIV-positive gay man in Singapore recently opened up about how he chose to love despite the odds in a video posted by Millennials of Singapore (MOSG), a YouTube channel that shares the voices and lives of millennials in Singapore.

Avin described the shock and shame of receiving his test result. He recalled how his mother broke down when he told her the news, and how he felt guilty every time he tried to be intimate with his partner.

At the end of the video, Avin said that people still hold many mistaken beliefs about the HIV-positive individuals, including how infectious the condition is.

Instead, he stressed that successes in treatment have allowed him to continue being intimate and that at the end of the day, everyone wants to be loved and accepted – even HIV patients.

In the comments section of the video, netizens praised him for his bravery. Many felt that his story helped to dispel society’s misconceptions about people living with HIV and they expressed empathy for him.

His compelling story encouraged viewers to engage in positive discus- sions. The video clocked more than 60,000 views, driven by MOSG’s popularity and reputation of being a platform for discussing social issues.

Since its launch last January, MOSG has been releasing relatable local content – at times controversial- to prompt its millennial viewers to have more enlightening discussions on salient issues in Singapore.

For example, it aired an openly gay pastor’s perspective in the wake of the petition for the repeal of Article 377a in September 2018.

MOSG enables those who want to have their voices heard on these issues to find an audience on social media. The appeal of its videos lies in its showcasing of authentic and entertaining personal stories.

Despite being a young channel, it gained 120,000 subscribers in 2018 alone and became recognised by YouTube as the #1 Rising YouTube Creator in Singapore in 2018.

This suggests that to effectively air alternative voices to change the national dialogue, media channels could consider the example of MOSG — to think of creative ways to showcase heartfelt, authentic, and important perspectives.

What makes MOSG unique

On MOSG, the segment Millennial Stories shares the lives of those who challenge societal norms such as mental illnesses and gender stereotypes. Love and Relationships divulge the struggles of couples in committed relationships. When I Was Your Age allow for parent-child discussions about topics that would not be covered in a conservative “Asian” household.

An example would be a mother and her millennial daughter who engaged in a candid discussion about their first boyfriends, including details like when they first had sex and the total number of men they had dated.

While MOSG’s topics are often sensational entertainment, they set the agenda for the discussion of social issues.

Its content appeals to human interest, while their non-anonymous guests narrate their stories in ways that are authentic and credible.

Furthermore, the stories on MOSG take the form of short snippets on YouTube, and longer narratives on its website, enabling some stories to be easily consumed while taking the time in their longer stories to break down more complex issues.

The perfect balance

But not all media channels are as effective in encouraging national discussions. Striking the perfect balance between increasing audience reach and encouraging change is not easy for many local productions.

Zyrup, a YouTube channel that used to host a talk show similar to MOSG’s Real Talk, focuses on entertainment news and sensational topics. Different guests were invited every episode. They were mostly celebrities, such as YouTube personality Hirzi Zulkiflie and local artist Narelle Kheng.

The primary purpose of Zyrup was to entertain by gossiping about relationships and influencers. Despite gaining a sizable audience of 49,000 subscribers within three years of its launch in 2014, their lack of credibility hampered the discussion of salient topics.

While purely relying on controversial entertainment may not be ideal, having content that is “too safe” may also hinder discussion on important topics.

The People of Singapore, who run two accounts on Facebook and Tumblr, emulates a style similar to the Humans of New York website. The ground-up initiative, created in 2013, tells the stories of Singaporeans through snapshots.

Stories like a father who lost his son to suicide and a woman who lost her partner to gang violence are among those featured on the website.

As the creator of the page gathers content through one-off interviews with the man in the street, many of the respondents shared about experiences that put them in a good light.

Known as “social desirability bias” in social science research, the featured personalities would be less likely to voice a challenging opinion about society. Being “too safe” due to worry about public image stifles discussion about societal issues – the same issues that may have given rise to their circumstances.

In the fight for attention in a heavily-mediatised world, knowing how to present stories and represent people is imperative if content creators want to effectively express the voices of people.

To strengthen the quality of our social media discussions, we could showcase authentic stories that push boundaries on taboo topics.

Hopefully, doing so would lead to better conversations on uncomfortable but important topics.

Promoting empathy in this manner might be the first step to spark significant and lasting change in our nation.