In this week’s episode of Singapore Internet Drama, there’s no doubt that the main character was Brooke Lim a 19-year-old content creator who has risen to fame as both an influencer with a massive social following and as the founder of her very own massively successful tuition agency.
Brooke’s agency specializes in helping students with essay writing, so one of the things was best known for was her writing ability. But that all came into question recently after an anonymous Tiktok account @sugaresqueessay started calling Brooke out over a personal essay, claiming that it contained multiple instances of plagiarism.
The allegations blew up, and the ensuing drama escalated from Internet drama into international news with even the UK’s Daily Mail covering it.
Part of that is because @sugaresqueessay didn’t just call out Brooke’s plagiarism, the anonymous collective behind the account documented it in painstaking, painful detail. This was not a hit job by your average Internet hater. This was something more.
So I reached out to @sugaresqueessay to understand their motivations and find out why they are so deadset on taking Brooke down.
They responded and had plenty to say on the subject.
Who is Brooke Lim?
But first, let’s back up a bit. If you’re not already immersed in Gen Z #Singapore Tiktok culture, you may be wondering who Brooke Lim really is and why her alleged plagiarism has drawn such a huge response.
While most fresh tertiary graduates are taking gap years or furiously applying to universities while slaving in a prestigious internship, Brooke founded and started the Classicle Club, which specializes in essay writing for the A-Levels General Paper (GP).
Classicle’s sleek website is peppered with resplendent words like ‘avant-garde writers’, ‘multi-pronged approach to learning’, ‘verbal carpentry’ and there are lofi-ASMR like videos about the Classicle experience – a classroom in the middle of the city where pets are allowed.
And if that doesn’t already sound like a dream already to you, the tuition agency raked in a six-figure profit in the second half of 2022 alone. Who knew academia could be so lucrative and aesthetic?
Caught up in a plagiarism saga on several levels
The kind of success Brooke has achieved at such a young age seems incredibly impressive to some, but it can also make you a target.
Starting late last week the @sugaresqueessay TikTok account (a play on Brooke’s social handle @sugaresque) started calling out Brooke over a personal essay she had posted about body image and her relationship with food.
Brooke had published the now-deleted essay on her personal blog, saying that she is “trying her best to be vulnerable” and expressing that she wanted to dabble in long-form writing other than GP essays.
Af first, the essay received positive feedback and words of encouragement from her followers, with some saying that her writing made them feel seen. Brooke also has an account on Tellonym, a cross-platform messaging app that allows anonymous and honest feedback. When you go under the cover of anonymity – anything goes.
Long story short, she started getting messages calling her out over how similar different parts of her essay were to various books and published articles. Discreetly, Brooke started making small changes as more and more comments started flooding in. The extent of her plagiarism is very well-documented in a public Google Doc posted by @sugaresquessay.
The problems continued when another academic TikTok user (what’s with this trend) @gejiabao caught wind of the saga and decided to check out Classicle. She then accused Brooke of copying her concepts – focusing primarily on the usage of the word “insights”. However her allegations were refuted when not only Brooke but the online community swooped in to say no one really owns the word.
In the same week, Brooke had to put out two subsequent videos explaining her actions.
The first one was regarding when she “made the very serious and regrettable mistake of plagiarism” for the essay on her relationship with eating. She extended her apology to her students first, the “authors of the books I plagiarised” and everyone who supported her.
She also added that the words she plagiarised had “deeply resonated” with her and stressed that it was a piece that was not commissioned or for anything but rather something she had done in her “personal capacity”. To end the 2:20 minute video she invited anyone who has further suggestions on how she can right things.
Brooke put out another video to address Jiabao’s allegations. Though these claims were easy to refute (that neither one of them owns the word “insights”), the second video was much longer – leading many to believe that she was not remorseful about her apology for plagiarising on the essay.
The inevitable and magnificent expose
I have to acknowledge that the document covering all the instances of plagiarism is magnificent. It’s obvious that so much research and time has gone into painstakingly documenting everything.
This is not the work of your common internet hater or someone who merely keeps petty receipts, this is someone who is incredibly passionate.
Speaking to Coconuts, the folks behind @sugaresqueessay stressed that this was not a premeditated attack on Brooke.
They affirmed that they didn’t wait for anything to “go live” but immediately after reading her essay, they recognized familiar quotes, passages and lines because they were also acquainted with books on the topic she had written about – body image and eating disorders.
“Rather, this was actually a spontaneous thing after reading her “On being afraid of eating” essay and noticing stark similarities with the book Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson.”
“One of us had read Wintergirls so many times, they were very certain that some sections were lifted from Wintergirls. And they were right when they checked their copy of the book. Following that, we continued reading Brooke’s essay. And then again, they found certain sentences and details that reminded them of Empty: A Memoir by Susan Burton. So they went to check their copy and it was the same conclusion reached as before; Brooke lifted from the book.”
As avid readers, they felt that Brooke passing off her piece as original writing to a large audience was wrong – dangerous even.
Plagiarim is a breach of ethics, it’s dishonesty, it’s saying you don’t value originality seriously… it’s theft.
@sugaresqueessay continued, “It is dangerous because she is undeniably a role model to her students and teenagers across social media platforms, and her act of plagiarism may give them the wrong impression that plagiarism is a small issue that can be excused.”
They emphasized that as an educator, you are held to the highest standard of academic integrity.
“Claiming works as your own so boldly when you know very well it isn’t yours is just distasteful,” they condemned.
“If her plagiarism isn’t pointed out, the message she’s sending across to her students would be that it’s okay to take credit for work that isn’t yours, which is promoting academic dishonesty. That’s honestly so troubling and concerning.”
When Coconuts asked Classicle about their thoughts on the plagiarism allegations, they acknowledged that it “runs counter to the principles that Classicle Club upholds.”
“We recognise the ramifications of the scandal as educators, though it is important to clarify that the personal blog post in question was not produced on behalf of Classicle.”
It’s really still early days to see how Brooke will weather this storm. But she’s done her part, (ie putting out those apologies. Now all she has to do is wait and see.
Classicle told Coconuts that no student has unenrolled yet and that parents and students have been “extremely supportive.”
“Of course, our business has been impacted by the issue, but not to the extent that you might imagine.”
Some people were so angry that an online petition was started to request that the University of California, Los Angeles (where Brooke was recently accepted) review her admissions essay for potential plagiarism with the possibility of seeing her acceptance revoked.
Harsh? Even @sugaresquessay thinks so.
They brought up that a reputable institution like UCLA would have measures in place to check for plagiarism, and her being accepted shows she passed those checks.
But one thing that did not sit well with them was her actual apology for her plagiarism..
“At first when we watched it, we did think she was remorseful over her actions. But when we tried to engage in conversation by asking her why she chose to plagiarize from 13 sources, we realised her comment section had been filtered, which directly contradicted her claim that she would leave her comment section open for discussion.”
To them, her actions suggested that her “apology was just her saying things for the sake of it, diminishing the remorse she was supposedly expressing.” Harsh, but fair.
In her video, Brooke also claimed that the plagiarism allegations included a bit that her 14-year-old self wrote – saying that a young Brooke also didn’t have any qualms about copying?
Not mincing their words, @sugaresqueessay said “There were still problems she had yet to address in her TikTok video apology: why she chose to plagiarise from not 1 but 13 sources despite knowing how to credit since she went through H1 Project Work, why she chose to write a romanticised piece about eating disorders, why she couldn’t write her own experiences in the essay if it was an autobiographical essay, why she plagiarised her tuition centre’s activity sheet and website, her interview response, and her RI essay.”
“There are so many cases of plagiarism she’s involved in and there is nary a word about it.”
Downside of fame
Loyalty. That’s what anyone with celebrity and success has, until they don’t.
While Brooke had admirers and people who looked up to her. Some seemingly felt like they were ready to show the receipts.
Another TikTok user, @mcspicymakesmelaosai, provided recordings of her classes and proof from Classicle’s paid materials that more plagiarism was involved in her running of the business.
In a video, @mcspicymakesmelaosai highlighted some paragraphs in model essays and with some quick research, it showed that she had lifted sections from other articles from The New Yorker and The New York Times.
The comparison shocked quite a few users, some even questioning if anything was original.
It is unclear if @mcspicymakesmelaosai is a student or former student of Brooke.
Other allegations on elitism and taxes
Another allegation @mcspicymakesmelaosai makes is that Brooke appears to be elitist. Firstly, there’s her “unique” accent that keeps getting commented on.
Brooke revealed that she is aware of her “inauthentic” accent and said that it was mostly shaped by television and also her upbringing.
@mcspicymakesmelaosai Replying to @mcspicy this is not an attempt to shame brooke or whatsoever, just sharing a particular moment which made a little uncomfortable because being a hardworking student apparently meant having no grammar and spelling errors. it really made me feel rather small especially with her jc example which she provided that indirectly correlated being unmotivated with the inability to write well. although there may be no malice behind her statements and using the quality of work to judge a student’s degree of effort may not be inherently wrong, i personally feel that it did not set up a particularly safe place for me to learn especially in a tuition context where i wouldn’t have been there if i didn’t need extra help anyways. as an educator and a role model, i hope she can look into the way she communicates her feelings and practise a more nuanced manner of expression. let’s stop fueling the toxic academic culture that is already ubiquitous in singapore and basing students’ worth on their quality of work. just my two cents. copyright disclaimer: i hereby declare that i do not own any part of the video shown here, and it simply serves as proof of my previous comments. the video shown fully belongs to the owner and the original creators. i do not claim any credit nor ownership for the aforementioned video, neither do i have any intention of appearing to own the video. #sugaresque ♬ original sound – mcspicy
In @mcspicymakesmelaosai’s recordings, Brooke can also be heard saying that “unmotivated students” who didn’t turn up for her extra classes will do grade less better than those who would turn up to class on a Sunday.
That rubbed many people the wrong way, considering tuition classes are already a luxury not everyone can afford.
Screenshots were also shared on the account of Brooker telling her followers that she’s happy to pay taxes and contribute to society – naivety or low-key brag on making millions? You decide.
How does one move on from this?
Classicle and Brooke have stated that they will put the students first and that classes will go on as per usual.
However, Classical says that they will now review every essay in their repository thoroughly to make sure that it complies with their criteria for academic honesty.
They added, “We’re honouring our commitment to the students’ learning and won’t let this affect their experience. At the end of class, if students have the time and if they want to, they can stay for a chat and share their opinion.”
In @sugaresqueessay’s estimation, Brooke was being disingenuous when she apologized for her plagiarism by playing it off as some kind of unconscious mistake.
“Like netizens said, plagiarism is a conscious act. It’s not a “spur of a moment” or “careless” mistake, it takes careful planning to consolidate and edit each word to fit her specific situation. It’s not something you can apologise for with “I will be more careful next time” because you were careful – you were careful with which sentences or phrases you wanted to lift and fit into the work you were putting together.
If she wants to be taken seriously as a writer, she should focus on creating her own content first, before turning her attention to publicity methods and climbing the ranks.”
Visibility is a trap
Perhaps like the Classicle hero Icarus, Brooke flew too close to the sun. At 19, a fresh-faced A-level graduate had opened a successful business that brought her fame and fortune. But, as with anyone who flaunts that much of their personal success in public, there’s going to be some haters.
Brooke has said that she’s received death threats – which no one deserves. And while @sugaresquessay showed some extremely tough love in their takedown of Brooke, she claims her students are still supportive.
Let’s face it. Unhealthy, hyper-aggressive competition is at the root of this drama, and it’s something that will always exist in certain industries, especially in Singapore.
To quote Lindsay Lohan’s character, Cady from Mean Girls, “Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.”
After all, writing a perfect GP essay will not fix this goddamn world.
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