Deathly effect of Twitter rumor mill in Singapore

As rumors of Lee Kuan Yew's apparent "death" swirled online, the nation's population ponders a future without its founding statesman and first prime minister.

Singapore celebrated its 47th birthday yesterday and as I do most years, I stayed in to watch the annual parade on the telly along with my fellow citizens.

But this year was a little different. This year, many were watching with bated breath when it was time for the ministers to take their seats on the grandstand, waiting to see if the country's founding father and first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew would appear as he did every year.

Lee, according to the Twitter rumor mill, had died earlier this week.

His supposedly death was a trending topic on Monday but went so viral on Wednesday even my mum called her reporter-daughter to check if Lee was indeed dead.

The rumors varied. One claimed he was brain-dead, while another alleged he was already dead and the country's national papers were instructed to hold back the news until after Singapore's birthday celebrations.

But most of us knew a clear indication would be his presence at the annual Aug. 9 parade...Lee had never missed one before.

Lee Kuan Yew on Aug. 9, 2012 (Screengrab from official NDP 2012 site)

So when the cameras panned to the entrance of the grandstand and minister after minister walked in, the biggest cheer from the audience erupted when Lee finally made his appearance looking somewhat frail but very much alive. The elderly statesman broke into a smile, which almost looked like a snigger and had me wondering if he had heard news about his unfortunate demise.

Twitter death hoax rumors aren't new. Celebrities Eddied Murphy, Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Robin Williams, Christina Aguilera and just this week, Taylor Swift, were just a handful of many others said to have "died", only to be resurrected and in some instances, "died" again.

But for Lee, who will turn 89 on Sep. 16 and has appeared frail in recent years, "death" seemed plausible. And because it did, many wondered about its impact.

I don't belong to the generation that had toiled alongside Lee, and Singapore's founding politicians, as the young and insignificantly small nation struggled for survival after gaining independence in 1965. The generations that did often lament how younger Singaporeans fail to appreciate Lee's role in transforming the country into one of Asia's economic tigers.

For some of the young here, his death mainly meant a much-welcomed public holiday.

When I first learnt of Lee's possible death, I felt mostly indifference. Sure, he did many great things, and I fully recognized and appreciated his contribution to Singapore's success. But he was getting on, he was frail, no one's immortal, and everyone has to die eventually. It's time for the nation to move on and emerge from his shadow. Those were the thoughts that went through my mind.

But, to my own surprise, I actually felt immense relief when he made his appearance at the parade. Thanks to the Twitter rumor mill, the impact of Lee's demise--while still premature--had finally hit home. Despite what I may think of Lee, and his infamous "iron fist" rule during his premiership, it forced me to finally realize his ultimate demise would truly be a sad loss for the country.

And I'm hoping it had the same effect on at least some of Singapore's young.

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