Sustained and continued discussion, not censorship, is the key to engage netizens

I’ve been quiet about MDA’s recent move to legislate online content overseeing political news in Singapore cause I wanted my words to be out in print on the newspaper forums. I had hoped that the newspapers would actually carry my piece, but perhaps this was too idealistic of me. Regardless, here is the piece submitted to the forums.

 

MDA’s recent move to regulate the internet has drawn much flak from netizens, to the point where a group calling themselves Free Our Internet has organised a peaceful protest at Hong Lim Park come 8 June.

                Minister for Communications and Information Dr Yaacob Ibrahim explained that the reason for the new legislation is to ensure that Singaporean’s “read the right thing”. Senior Minister of State, Ms Indranee Rajah further elaborated that should a website or blog function in a fashion similar to a news provider and have a reach of 50 000 people, that website too has to apply for a license. All in all, the intention of the authorities seem  to revolve around the idea of providing Singaporeans accurate information, among other things.

                Politics aside, such a move severely hamstrings any potential discussion regarding social issues and policies, as many times the area of social policies overlap with politics. Additionally, the internet allows a venue for netizens to vent their frustrations. Increased legislation would only bottle up negative sentiment, and cause them to simmer, and potentially reach a flash point, elsewhere.

                As such, the best course of action for the government is to rescind the licensing regime, or at least withhold from adding any additional websites to it. Also, the authorities should continue to engage netizens online and disprove any false information that surfaces. On May 9 2013, the SPF Facebook page posted a detailed comment, disclaiming a viral post of child-grabbing incident as a hoax. This is a brilliant example of how a government office engages netizens, while at the same time ensuring accurate information is broadcasted.

                Ultimately the internet, and its offspring social media, brings with it the freedom of speech as well as the freedom to screech. The government, just like the many responsible netizens have, should learn to ignore those who screech and engage those who speak.

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6 comments

  1. Tim

    Idealistic? On the contrary I think this should be published~~ I was at Hong Lim with two of my friends on the day of protest(One of the speaker is my idol)…and it was a blast. The myriad of views by the speakers were very insightful and definitely resonates in essence of what you have written here.

    Nonetheless, I must say that I am pretty disappointed my comments have been left unanswered, something that I do not expect of you…at all. Regardless, I do hope that this piece do get published.

    • Hello bello Tim!

      I regretfully missed the protest cause I was rushing assignments (again….forever late this one). I saw some of the highlights on Youtube and off the Free My Internet Facebook page.

      However, I fear that their actions will not gain traction. The authorities need simply sit and wait. While initial response was mighty loud, how long can we, simple people maintain this argument? How long before we get tired of fighting a seemingly impossible battle and revert our attention to something simple, mundane and less demanding.

      This is a war of attrition.

      Just let the voices slowly grow hoarse from protesting. Only a handful will continue their protest, bit in the end, we will inevitably accept this new law.

      Why?

      It is easier than fighting. (And to be clear to any watchdogs out their, I use the term fighting liberally and dramatically. The phrase “continually engage the government in a relatively peaceful manner regarding this issue” is more apt).

  2. Tim

    Hello Mr Bard. Now I feel kind of guilty. Here we go again~~

    You know, your article was regretfully not published, I feel, is because unlike your other articles, you are encroaching treacherously on the boundaries of political issues. Already the mainstream print media is giving minimal coverage of the protest, as compared to the 6.9million protest held earlier this year.

    And you mentioned something about bottled up negative sentiments potentially reaching a flashpoint elsewhere. I think the protest in itself is the flashpoint. Beyond that, I can only think of GE 2016. (What other choice do we have sigh)

    Dissecting your article, there are two main issues that your are putting forward. One, MDA’s new rules is bent on censorship. Secondly, the urge for the government to continually engage citizens online. Quoting the SPF Facebook as an example supports your second issue but just…does not quite tie in with the first one. From what I can see, the intention of MDA’s new ruling is deeper that what was purported as just giving Singaporeans the ‘accurate information’.

    And I definitely agree with you in your comments. Their efforts might spread the message but it is as far as they can go. It is already the law. And amending it would entail a troublesome legislative process which I believe the lawmakers are not prepared to do so….yet? Or not even planning to. *shrugs* *sigh*

    2016 is going to be interesting.

    • Hello Tim,

      I apologise again for the super late reply. Things are only getting busier = /

      Hong Lim Park is merely a pressure relieve valve. A real flashpoint in my opinion would see the streets become battlegrounds as violence becomes the only method of viable communication left to express anger and frustration.

      Regarding the example used by the SPF Facebook page – it’s meant to highlight mistruths and false information can be immediately be countered and “fix” if the relevant government bodies acted quickly and immediately. This example was raised in direct response to Dr Yaacob’s comments that the new legislation is to ensure citizens read the right thing.

      Of course there is also the greater arguement of who defines what is the right thing to read (but I think several other, more high profile blogs have covered it).

      On a final point, how are people suppose to communication with those in power when the powers that be do not listen? How far must the people go? And more importantly, what are they willing to sacrifice?

  3. Tim

    Nah it is okay. You mentioned you’re in your last year of uni? So I dont blame you. haha

    I dont think the citizens would dare to use violence as the “only method of viable communication left to express anger and frustration”. The penalty for the offence stipulated under the Penal Code for rioting is enough to keep such intentions at bay. After Hong Lim Park, we can only just happily scratch our heads.

    Well they do provide official platforms for communication but that is because they can regulate these platforms. They want to come down hard on the unofficial platforms where they cannot control what was being produced and the comments that come with it that can possibly undermine the government.

    This licensing definitely has a bigger cause. Engaging the netizens wasnt the priority. Covering their asses is.

  4. Pingback: Heather Chua – Singapore’s Greatest Troll | thebardstwocents

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