Crush or creepy?
Friends set up website where commuters can post pictures of hot strangers in trains
There was too much negativity on the Internet, the two friends felt.
Far too many people were criticising others, calling people names and being cyberbullies.
So Mr Liang Zhi Chao and Mr Michael Lee decided to set up a website where people could post pictures of attractive strangers whom they saw in trains and say good things about them.
While their intention might seem admirable, some felt they were invading people's privacy.
Mr Liang and Mr Lee, both in their 20s, are in the digital marketing field. They came up with mrtcrush.com to counter cyberbullying.
Mr Lee said: "We wanted to try addressing those problems and have a bit of fun too.
"We also came up with a new term - 'cyber-complimenting'. Cyber-complimenting is the basis of the site."
The website encourages commuters to snap photos of good-looking passengers and submit them with a headline and a "dirty" fantasy.
But how was this complimentary when the subject would be portrayed in a sexual manner?
Mr Liang said the fantasy bit was just for fun, was not compulsory and the submission would be removed if the photo's subject found it distasteful.
No personal information is allowed to be posted on the website.
But some are divided on whether this "campaign" is offensive to others. (See report on facing page.)
Since last month, the number of visitors to the website has been in the five-figure range each day, claimed Mr Liang.
The website, conceived over a bottle of wine at Mr Lee's place in January, started as a joke. Both creators never dreamt that it would catch on so quickly.
They said they do not plan to earn money from the website. They spent less than $100 to buy the domain name on the night the idea was conceived.
Submissions are moderated by Mr Lee and Mr Liang. They do not have a fixed schedule as maintaining the website is more of a hobby to them.
But they are strict about differentiating between troll or sarcastic submissions and proper ones. They receive an average of 10 submissions a day.
Mr Lee said: "The site started out with good intentions. We have no intention of offending anyone and if anyone requests to have their photos taken down, we'll do that without question.
"The site is meant to compliment people and it also gives people who are bored on the train something fun to do."
Mr Liang added: "So far, no one has written in to request that we take down their photos, even those people who have been identified by friends. So we appreciate them being good sports."
He said that most of the cheeky headlines such as 'No smoking? But you are smoking hot' are user-generated and they edit content only if there are mistakes in grammar or expression.
Ironically, for people who encourage others to take pictures of strangers, Mr Liang and Mr Lee agreed to talk to The New Paper only on condition that their faces not be shown.
When asked why, Mr Liang said: "We don't need the publicity. We just want to bring this positive message across and have the site serve its purpose of complimenting people."
The website has been making the rounds on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
Mr Joel Tan, 27, a trade operations executive who read about the website from a friend's Facebook post, said: "Funny or offensive, it would depend on the picture and the headline given. But if my picture were up there, I would just laugh it off."
Others were critical of the website, citing privacy issues and describing it as voyeuristic.
Mr Dinie Sudiyono, 25, an undergraduate, said: "I find the site disturbing. It's creative, but a bit too stalker-ish. (If I were featured on it), I'd be happy, but also scared because I would feel like I'm being watched or stalked."
The site creators know that not everyone has responded positively to the site, but they are not too worried about it.
Mr Lee said: "You can't please everyone. And I don't think the site has hurt anyone."
So far no one has written in to request that we take down their photos, even those people who have been identified by friends.
- Mr Michael Lee, who, with good friend Mr Liang Zhi Chao, set up mrtcrush.com
I find the site disturbing. It's creative but a bit too stalker-ish. (If I were featured on it), I'd be happy, but also scared because I'd feel like I'm being watched or stalked.
- Undergraduate Dinie Sudiyono
Not illegal, but be gracious and get permission
Websites like mrtcrush.com that encourage people to take and submit photos of strangers are not doing anything wrong, said Mr Rajan Supramaniam, a lawyer at Hilborne Law LLC
He said: "Taking photos in public places is generally all right. As long as they are not for commercial use and if there are no derogatory or defamatory remarks."
He said there was a grey area when you post the pictures online, especially if they are accompanied by personal or sexual remarks.
If a complaint is lodged, the parties involved can be investigated.
Mr Supramaniam said: "It borders on infringing on people's privacy although it's in a public place.
"For ethical reasons, you should get permission from the people in the photos if you want to post them."
Mr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, agreed saying: "To be gracious, it is necessary to ask permission before you post it. Kindness includes respect for the privacy of (other) people.
"It is only courteous and if you intend it to be positive (to compliment someone), there is no reason why you should not ask for permission."
While appreciating the website creators for promoting "cyber-complimenting", Mr Wan said: "It is encouraging that we have people who are tired of the negativity and want to do something positive, but we must be sensitive to the privacy needs of people and be aware of unexpected consequences.
"Good intentions do not always lead to good consequences."