Uncle Raymond TikTok dating show under fire for ‘exploiting’ people with intellectual disabilities
A popular dating show on social media platform TikTok has come under fire for inappropriately featuring persons with intellectual disabilities.
Produced by local Internet personality Uncle Raymond, the show is named Fei Cheng Wu Rao, or If You Are The One in English, and is inspired by a famous Chinese dating show of the same name. It has 37 episodes so far.
Started in May, each episode is only a few minutes long and typically draws about 30,000 to 114,000 views. Uncle Raymond, known for his viral TikTok dancing videos, provides a disclaimer that the show is “purely for fun”.
On each episode, a panel of women or men contestants and a solo contestant of the opposite gender to the panel introduce themselves, sharing information such as their names and where they live.
Uncle Raymond then asks each contestant to share what they are looking for in a romantic partner, and based on the information, the solo contestant picks a contestant from the panel to be matched with by the end of the episode.
Multiple contestants on the show have been persons with intellectual disabilities who appear to be unaccompanied.
While there are TikTok users who are amused by Uncle Raymond’s show, others have called him out, saying it is exploitative as they feel he is putting these disabled individuals in vulnerable positions to bolster his online popularity.
An early interventionist who wanted to be known only as Ms Lee, and a social worker who wanted to be known only as Ms Lim, expressed concerns to The Straits Times that the show exposes these individuals’ vulnerabilities without ensuring their safety, thus potentially subjecting them to cyber bullying.
A check by ST shows some netizens making fun of and insulting the disabled participants in the comment sections of these videos.
One user asked: “Why is the last guy permanently winking at me?”, referring to a participant’s physical appearance.
In a joint statement, Ms Lee and Ms Lim said: “Uncle Raymond’s matchmaking series reinforces the stigma of this marginalised group by taking advantage of their desire to be accepted as a person with special needs; the portrayal of the persons with special needs is skewed and further associated with negative qualities, like ‘stupid, crazy, unwanted, outcast’.”
They also raised concerns about how the disabled participants seemed confused at times, and questioned if they understood the show’s intent, potential ramifications and responses from the public
“If the participants do not have mental capacity and are unable to give consent, then were the guardians informed of their involvement in this project?” they said.
Uncle Raymond, a businessman whose real name is Mr Raymond Lin, said he had met most of these disabled participants through an event at a special needs school where he was an invited guest.
Speaking to ST in Mandarin, Mr Lin, 61, clarified that he has never asked them to be in his videos and that he does not earn money from the online content. Instead, he posts the time and filming location for each episode on TikTok, and those who are interested show up on their own accord.
Addressing concerns about the online bullying, he said: “There are netizens who make fun of these individuals, but they are ignorant and lack compassion. There will always be such people in society, and it cannot be avoided.”
The school, which requested not to be named, confirmed that Mr Lin was invited to a carnival event by its affiliated welfare association and that it is aware of its students’ involvement in his videos.
In late June, it requested that Mr Lin remove an episode of the dating show which featured its students dressed in school uniform, which he has acceded to.
The school has advised its students not to continue participating in the show as it felt the content was not age-appropriate, and is making continued efforts to educate them on using social media responsibly.
On whether the show counts as exploitation, social worker Florence Lim said the situation is a “tricky” one since participants join the show voluntarily. But as the parent of a child with Down Syndrome, the 65-year-old said she would not be comfortable if her daughter was featured on the show.
She said the content of the show and its production process need to be thoroughly evaluated and that safety measures must be taken in order for the show to be produced in an ethical manner.
“We really don’t know their level of intellectual disability. We don’t know whether their emotional and mental health needs are taken into consideration when being selected for the show,” she said.
Dr Carol Balhetchet, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who works with people with cognitive disabilities, agreed, saying the show requires proper scripting and production arrangements with greater sensitivity towards understanding those with disabilities.
She also expressed concern about the negative effects of being rejected on the show – in front of thousands of netizens – would have on the participants, such as lowered self-esteem.
Dr Balhetchet added that the show should remind audience members not to discriminate against the disabled participants.
Ms Florence Lim, meanwhile, suggested that Mr Lin partner with a social service organisation experienced in working with people with intellectual disabilities.
Defending himself, Mr Lin said the show helps to improve the confidence, language and communication skills of the “very kind and passionate” disabled participants.
“I always take extra care and patience to teach and guide them through the activities of the show,” he said. “They gain a lot of joy from these activities, and it makes me happy to see them enjoying themselves.”
However, professionals ST spoke to said the episodes are too short to effectively help participants hone such skills.
Dr Balhetchet said: “Spreading awareness (about people with special needs) is a good initiative, but spreading awareness means education. What form of education has he given to the viewers? Nothing. There’s no educational component.”
ST has contacted the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) for comment.