Cyber trial leads to a great loss in Hong Kong Burns Association resignation

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 July, 2015, 12:23am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 July, 2015, 12:23am

Thanks to new technology and social media, expression of opinion and information sharing has never been easier. But it also means everyone is a commentator; and in some cases, even prosecutor or judge pronouncing verdicts on people and issues that they know little about. The torrents of comments - sometimes even abuse - can be so powerful that it can easily escalate into a cyber trial, as in the case with Stanley Cheung Yun-hang. The survivor of the deadly Pat Sin Leng hill fire in 1996 became a victim of vicious online attacks in the wake of his assistance for those injured in the Taiwan's dust explosion.

There can be no question that Cheung is the right person to help. He underwent more than 100 operations and many skin grafts after the Hong Kong blaze. As a social worker, psychotherapist and vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Burns Association, it is only natural for him to come forward after the Taiwan blast injured hundreds of revellers, including six Hongkongers, at a colour dust party.

But his high-profile trip to the island has not been well received by some netizens, who accused of him of exploiting the tragedy for self-publicity. From his physical appearance to his actions and Facebook posts, he suddenly became an object of intense online scrutiny. Some went further to question whether he was to blame for the hill fire; and initiated a boycott of the association's fundraising for the victims in the Taiwan's blast. He was forced to step down as the vice-chairman.

That a 20-year-old fatal tragedy has been brought up again for public scrutiny is to be regretted. The circumstances leading to the blaze were fully examined in the coroner's court. Cheung and other survivors have since recovered and moved on. He is to be commended for his enthusiasm in helping others with his experience. The online trial is not just unfair to him, but to those who have spent years to leave the bad memories behind.

Those who took issue with Cheung's actions may think they have successfully forced him to step down. But hundreds of victims have just embarked on the painful journey of recovery. To those who need his help and advice to make it through the ordeal, his resignation is a great loss.

Opinion is free. But in the age of the internet, the consequence can be costly. Those who open up old wounds may not realise that the damage inflicted could be much wider than intended.