The Online Citizen

An over-the-top attempt at character assassination

July 16
14:28 2013

By Andrew Loh

character assasinate

Since Ravi Philemon posted those fateful remarks by his friend on the availability of masks during the haze period, much has happened.

Minister Yaacob Ibrahim pointed him out in Parliament for attack, questioning him – and other “prominent members of the online community” – if they were helping to “spread” rumours or “even create them”.

Dr Yaacob’s attack was then followed by at least one report in the Straits Times which reported that “many observers agreed it was right to call out such behaviour”, and a letter to the same newspaper mentioning and indeed accusing Ravi Philemon of being “irresponsible”.

Former Nominated Member of Parliament, Calvin Cheng, also wrote a letter to the Straits Times on 16 July. Mr Cheng wrote:

“I believe blogger Ravi Philemon’s explanation to be bona fide, and that rather than having malicious intent, he was putting the allegation – that none of the Government’s nine million N95 masks was for the public – into the public domain for the Government to clarify the issue.”

Mr Cheng, however, added:

“Instead of putting out allegations on the Internet to be clarified, one should have directed the claims to the NEA, because the viral nature of the Internet means that such untruths could spark further panic and mask-hoarding, making the Government’s job even harder.”

It would thus seem that actions such as that which Mr Ravi is alleged to have engaged in, was rather serious, that it went viral, read by many people, had the real potential to cause “panic” among the public, and required a minister to raise it in Parliament and launch into an attack on such an individual.

But what are the facts?

First, the post in question was made on Ravi’s personal Facebook page.

Second, it was not posted or reposted (as far as I know) on any other websites or blogs.

Third, the post in question was made on Saturday, 22 June 2013.

Fourth, even today – 3 weeks after it was made – it has received a mere 24 “likes” and 28 “shares” on Facebook. (According to this site, Singapore’s Facebook subscribers stood at almost 3 million in 2012.)

Fifth, the content of the post was not untrue – that the masks were not meant for the general public, as the Defence Minister confirmed in Parliament on the 9 of July.

Sixth, Ravi’s post wasn’t the only one questioning the availability of the masks. On the Straits Times’ own portal, STOMP, the following were posted (in the page itself as a news report, and NOT in the comments section) on 21 June when the haze was at its worst level of PSI 401:

“This is unlike what Minister Vivian Balakrishnan mentioned on TV, that there are 9 million N95 in stock now, enough for everyone… I like to ask our minister where I can get mask for my two aged parents and 5 year old nephew?” – Ivan.

“Where are the stocks promised made by our Ministry of Health that by yesterday evening there will be stock?” – Wu Bian.

“So it says these masks are available, but try going to the various pharmacies. All we see is ‘out of stock’ from near all of them. At a time of such acute need, we can’t seem to buy them from anywhere. This is not how you manage a crisis.” – Stanley.

Seventh, the government has so far only accused certain netizens and “prominent members of the online community” of “spreading rumours” or not speaking up against such rumours during the haze period.

Eight, STOMP’s reach is declared – by its owner, Singapore Press Holdings – as “1 million – unique audience”, and “71 million monthly page views”. (See here.)

With the above facts, the obvious question is:

Why is the government making such a big deal about Ravi Philemon’s Facebook post when:

  1. It obviously did not go viral. In fact – and this is a fact – the post was hardly shared. 24 ‘likes’ and 28 ‘shares’ after 3 weeks is nothing even close to it going “viral”.
  2. What the post said – that the masks were not intended for the general public – is not untrue, as the Defence Minister himself later confirmed in Parliament. The masks in fact were reserved and stockpiled for use by healthcare workers in the event of another flu outbreak.
  3. The government has kept a total silence on the posting on STOMP which openly and clearly questioned Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and the Ministry of Health’s promise that masks would be made available. This is even more serious considering that STOMP’s reach goes into the millions, as SPH itself says. It thus had even more potential to cast doubts on what the government and its ministers say, which is essentially what Dr Yaacob is taking issue with, with Ravi Philemon’s re-posting of his friend’s remarks. Ravi Philemon’s 24 ‘likes’ and 28 ‘shares’ does not even come close to having such far-reaching influence as STOMP does.

In an earlier article, I laid out the sequence of events with regards to the accusations against Ravi Philemon. (See here.) If one were also to peruse Ravi Philemon’s Facebook page, one would see that he too had helped disseminate useful information with regards to the haze, including reposting a post by Mr Cheng advising people to stay indoors. (See here.)

Given all the facts, one can only surmise that there is a political agenda behind the recent spate of attacks on the online community. How else could it be – when the government blows things out of proportion – and attack an individual – and then use his alleged action in “spreading rumours” to justify new regulations for the Internet?

It all seems too calculated and coincidental.

The attacks on Ravi Philemon smacks of an over-the-top attempt at character assassination, and those responsible for such behaviour should be ashamed of themselves – especially given recent comments by the Prime Minister about “right politics” and remarks by another minister about “clean politics”.

It is time to stop making a mountain out of an ant-hill.

 

  • Cire Wu

    U either read the wrong article or have serious memory issues.

    1.It obviously did not go viral. In fact – and this is a fact – the post was hardly shared. 24 ‘likes’ and 28 ‘shares’ after 3 weeks is nothing even close to it going “viral”.

    Just because it has little likes and not widely shared does not make it right to anyhow accuse the government

    2.What the post said – that the masks were not intended for the general public – is not untrue, as the Defence Minister himself later confirmed in Parliament. The masks in fact were reserved and stockpiled for use by healthcare workers in the event of another flu outbreak.

    U probably read the wrong post. Ravi accused the government of not being prepared and claimed that his “friend” knew the mask just got ordered and will only reach SG on Monday. Government was already distributing the mask before Monday arrived

    3.The government has kept a total silence on the posting on STOMP which openly and clearly questioned Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and the Ministry of Health’s promise that masks would be made available. This is even more serious considering that STOMP’s reach goes into the millions, as SPH itself says. It thus had even more potential to cast doubts on what the government and its ministers say, which is essentially what Dr Yaacob is taking issue with, with Ravi Philemon’s re-posting of his friend’s remarks. Ravi Philemon’s 24 ‘likes’ and 28 ‘shares’ does not even come close to having such far-reaching influence as STOMP does.

    STOMP was questioning where about the Mask. Ravi was accusing the government of not being prepared and claim the mask were only ordered after the fact. See the difference?

  • Cire Wu

    U either read the wrong article or have serious memory issues.

    1.It obviously did not go viral. In fact – and this is a fact – the post was hardly shared. 24 ‘likes’ and 28 ‘shares’ after 3 weeks is nothing even close to it going “viral”.

    Just because it has little likes and not widely shared does not make it right to anyhow accuse the government

    2.What the post said – that the masks were not intended for the general public – is not untrue, as the Defence Minister himself later confirmed in Parliament. The masks in fact were reserved and stockpiled for use by healthcare workers in the event of another flu outbreak.

    U probably read the wrong post. Ravi accused the government of not being prepared and claimed that his “friend” knew the mask just got ordered and will only reach SG on Monday. Government was already distributing the mask before Monday arrived

    3.The government has kept a total silence on the posting on STOMP which openly and clearly questioned Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and the Ministry of Health’s promise that masks would be made available. This is even more serious considering that STOMP’s reach goes into the millions, as SPH itself says. It thus had even more potential to cast doubts on what the government and its ministers say, which is essentially what Dr Yaacob is taking issue with, with Ravi Philemon’s re-posting of his friend’s remarks. Ravi Philemon’s 24 ‘likes’ and 28 ‘shares’ does not even come close to having such far-reaching influence as STOMP does.

    STOMP was questioning where about the Mask. Ravi was accusing the government of not being prepared and claim the mask were only ordered after the fact. See the difference?

  • Junnies Jun Yang

    Minister Yaacob’s inability or reluctance to see things in perspective and draw the right conclusions is very disturbing considering the responsibilities that he holds.

    Whenever there is uncertainty or doubt, rumors and speculations are bound to occur. It is part of the human instinct to search for answers and understand their experience. To expect rumors/speculations to not exist and then blame the online community for their existence is absurd.

    The solution to this rumor/speculation problem is obvious; Gain the public’s trust by consistently providing accurate, relevant information. Rumors and speculation gain traction when the government and its institutions lose the public’s trust.The declining election numbers for the PAP in 2006 and 2011 is clear evidence that public trust in the government has eroded and for that, the blame falls squarely on the PAP. The Mas Selamat incident certainly didn’t help in establishing “trust” with the government’s information/communication mechanisms.

    The misalignment of priorities, blowing things out of proportion (the hawker-debate is another example), and drawing of false conclusions only serve to erode the public’s trust in the PAP. Minister Yaacob may think that he is scoring political points or whatever, but he has just convinced another voter that the PAP needs to be told to stop being such a lil bitch making a fuss out of nothing and focus on serving the people.

  • Junnies Jun Yang

    Minister Yaacob’s inability or reluctance to see things in perspective and draw the right conclusions is very disturbing considering the responsibilities that he holds.

    Whenever there is uncertainty or doubt, rumors and speculations are bound to occur. It is part of the human instinct to search for answers and understand their experience. To expect rumors/speculations to not exist and then blame the online community for their existence is absurd.

    The solution to this rumor/speculation problem is obvious; Gain the public’s trust by consistently providing accurate, relevant information. Rumors and speculation gain traction when the government and its institutions lose the public’s trust.The declining election numbers for the PAP in 2006 and 2011 is clear evidence that public trust in the government has eroded and for that, the blame falls squarely on the PAP. The Mas Selamat incident certainly didn’t help in establishing “trust” with the government’s information/communication mechanisms.

    The misalignment of priorities, blowing things out of proportion (the hawker-debate is another example), and drawing of false conclusions only serve to erode the public’s trust in the PAP. Minister Yaacob may think that he is scoring political points or whatever, but he has just convinced another voter that the PAP needs to be told to stop being such a lil bitch making a fuss out of nothing and focus on serving the people.

  • Redemption

    >Cire Wu

    U don’t try to throw smoke la,
    If Ravi really accuses the garment.
    We all know the lawyer letter will be send out Liao.

    Btw i always remember yakult famous “50 years flood one time in orchard”
    And moi still wondering if yakukt’s kid coming back from the United States to serve NS as he said.

  • Redemption

    >Cire Wu

    U don’t try to throw smoke la,
    If Ravi really accuses the garment.
    We all know the lawyer letter will be send out Liao.

    Btw i always remember yakult famous “50 years flood one time in orchard”
    And moi still wondering if yakukt’s kid coming back from the United States to serve NS as he said.

  • LostInSG

    Its all very simple lah! We are not allowed to critise the garment. You can only praise them. Isn’t that what the newspapers and tv always do?

  • LostInSG

    Its all very simple lah! We are not allowed to critise the garment. You can only praise them. Isn’t that what the newspapers and tv always do?

  • Hugh Jazz

    The only conspirators out to discredit bloggers are the bloggers themselves with their foot in mouth disease as evidenced by their antics over FMI. This article is hilariously ironic considering he had just blogged about shoddy reporting by msm and here he is making baseless allegations with no real proof.

  • Hugh Jazz

    The only conspirators out to discredit bloggers are the bloggers themselves with their foot in mouth disease as evidenced by their antics over FMI. This article is hilariously ironic considering he had just blogged about shoddy reporting by msm and here he is making baseless allegations with no real proof.

  • Richard Woo

    I fully agree with Andrew on all of the points/observations raised by him in his article.

    The conclusions drawn by Andrew, as spelt out in the last four paragraphs, are well supported by the arguments he advanced in the preceding paragraphs.

    I would like to hear the govt’s rebuttal to the criticisms made by Andrew.

    This govt can be credited with excellence for gutter politics.

  • Richard Woo

    I fully agree with Andrew on all of the points/observations raised by him in his article.

    The conclusions drawn by Andrew, as spelt out in the last four paragraphs, are well supported by the arguments he advanced in the preceding paragraphs.

    I would like to hear the govt’s rebuttal to the criticisms made by Andrew.

    This govt can be credited with excellence for gutter politics.

  • Lian Chuan Yeoh

    Andrew valiantly tries to defend the statement that “the 9 million masks are coming into Singapore only on Monday (June 24). But none will be for the public.”

    Fat hopes.

    The statement was (and is) untrue.

    And Andrew knows it (or jolly well should).

    • Jeremy Chen

      Of course, the statement

      “the 9 million masks are coming into Singapore only on Monday (June 24). But none will be for the public”

      is not true… now. Because prior to the statement being made on the social media, the decision had been made that the masks were to be for healthcare workers (this was confirmed in Parliament on 9 Jul by the Defence Minister). Clearly the statement referenced the original decision. Sometime when it was realized that the haze was severe, that decision was reversed and some masks were released to the public. Of course after the the reversal the truth of the statement switched… But that does not discredit whoever made the statement at all.

      Being a lawyer, I’m sure you are against arbitrarily changing the law and having it apply retroactively suddenly and without notice. In so far as that is unfair, your statement, too, is unfair. And you know it (or jolly well should).

  • Lian Chuan Yeoh

    Andrew valiantly tries to defend the statement that “the 9 million masks are coming into Singapore only on Monday (June 24). But none will be for the public.”

    Fat hopes.

    The statement was (and is) untrue.

    And Andrew knows it (or jolly well should).

    • Jeremy Chen

      Of course, the statement

      “the 9 million masks are coming into Singapore only on Monday (June 24). But none will be for the public”

      is not true… now. Because prior to the statement being made on the social media, the decision had been made that the masks were to be for healthcare workers (this was confirmed in Parliament on 9 Jul by the Defence Minister). Clearly the statement referenced the original decision. Sometime when it was realized that the haze was severe, that decision was reversed and some masks were released to the public. Of course after the the reversal the truth of the statement switched… But that does not discredit whoever made the statement at all.

      Being a lawyer, I’m sure you are against arbitrarily changing the law and having it apply retroactively suddenly and without notice. In so far as that is unfair, your statement, too, is unfair. And you know it (or jolly well should).

  • Andrew Leung

    PAP should not be so defensive. Please show professional communications and apologize for the slow service standard. PAP operational skills need to be relooked and updated. Please establish good relationships with bloggers to help you spread the Right Information.

  • Andrew Leung

    PAP should not be so defensive. Please show professional communications and apologize for the slow service standard. PAP operational skills need to be relooked and updated. Please establish good relationships with bloggers to help you spread the Right Information.

  • Richard Woo

    I agree with the verdict Andrew arrived at: “The attacks on Ravi Philemon smacks of an over-the-top attempt at character assassination, and those responsible for such behaviour should be ashamed of themselves…”

    Gutter politics is not uncommon, but what we can say is that this govt – or at least some of its officials – can be assigned a straight A for their effort in character assassination.

    What can Singaporeans do to remove gutter politics from the environment? Answer: Simple – just veto out the politicians

  • Richard Woo

    I agree with the verdict Andrew arrived at: “The attacks on Ravi Philemon smacks of an over-the-top attempt at character assassination, and those responsible for such behaviour should be ashamed of themselves…”

    Gutter politics is not uncommon, but what we can say is that this govt – or at least some of its officials – can be assigned a straight A for their effort in character assassination.

    What can Singaporeans do to remove gutter politics from the environment? Answer: Simple – just veto out the politicians

  • silentmajority67

    The writer of this article obviously is of the opinion that we should put up with sbloggers whose integrity and honesty leaves much to be desired and that inaccurate, unverified and dishonest blogging are harmless. Anyone who thinks other wise and critique the accuracy of bloggers comments , in the writer’s opinion , is playing politics and has ulterior motive. The writer does not seem to attach any importance to accurate news reporting in blogs. This article is full of imagination and petty comments that it almost read like an article written by a juvenile. Most Singaporeans have no issue with the availability of masks during the haze. Of course there will be some shops without stocks of the masks, queues and so on. Overall though the government and singaporeans handle and manage the haze well. The writer should spend his energy in more constructive work and not spend his days manufacturing fairy tales of imagined problems and conspiracies of the government.

  • silentmajority67

    The writer of this article obviously is of the opinion that we should put up with sbloggers whose integrity and honesty leaves much to be desired and that inaccurate, unverified and dishonest blogging are harmless. Anyone who thinks other wise and critique the accuracy of bloggers comments , in the writer’s opinion , is playing politics and has ulterior motive. The writer does not seem to attach any importance to accurate news reporting in blogs. This article is full of imagination and petty comments that it almost read like an article written by a juvenile. Most Singaporeans have no issue with the availability of masks during the haze. Of course there will be some shops without stocks of the masks, queues and so on. Overall though the government and singaporeans handle and manage the haze well. The writer should spend his energy in more constructive work and not spend his days manufacturing fairy tales of imagined problems and conspiracies of the government.

  • Pingback: When the mainstream media “cause anxiety by spreading rumours”  |  TR Emeritus

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