Blogging is a medium of communication. Web logs were once little more than online diaries, for people to write about their daily lives. Now, even these personal blogs can gain international attention and recognition. Xiaxue is one. Other, more prolific, Internet readers and bloggers would be able to name more.
Ultimately, a blog is a tool for expression; through expression, one communicates ideas; through ideas, one influences actions.
Blogs, therefore, can be powerful tools for change.
There are currently quite a number of blogs out there that recognize this. They write on politics, social problems, current events, issues which capture the writer’s attention so intensely that he wants to tell the world what he or she thinks of the issue at hand.
Most blogs are reactionary
However, in Singapore, most such blogs are reactionary in nature. Their writers read newspapers, watch news programs, listen to news broadcasts, or otherwise gain information from the media. Then, based on what they receive from the media, they write articles about these issues. This is what I term the conventional approach.
The conventional approach has some failings, chief amongst which is dependency on the media. Most of what these writers write upon is taken from media sources; therefore, what the media leaves out, accidentally or otherwise, is usually unknown to the writers, barring personal research. The bloggers, in this sense, are not contributing anything new. All they are doing is adding breadth and depth.
While this itself is desirable, and even necessary for democratic discussion, whatever the mainstream media leaves out is not covered by bloggers who draw their inspiration solely from the media. This means that issues that require discussion and debate are not covered by bloggers that only react to the media.
We all know what they are: the perennial ‘sensitive’ issues of race, language, religion, and Singaporean politics (the last to a relatively lesser extent). Less sensitive topics include economic policy, the environment, education, and so on. Because the media does not cover them, or at least as much as other issues, there is significantly less debate on these issues, all of which impact Singapore.
For instance, where is the demarcation between State and religion? Is the current education system suitable for the future? How do we maintain racial harmony in our multiethnic mosaic? What kind of government is best for Singapore?
None of my peers write, or even think, about these, and (relatively) very few Singaporean bloggers write about some of these topics. This lack of discussion and debate on these less-covered topics present a significant stumbling block to the development of a mature, free, democratic society in Singapore.
Another problem is resource asymmetry. Established media organisations have contacts, funding, resources, personnel, and sources that online journals and the like cannot, as yet, hope to compete against. When compared to the individual blogger, this asymmetry becomes very stark.
Mainstream media organisations have more access to events that shape human history, and have greater power to communicate information about these events to more people around the world, than individual bloggers. These bloggers, lacking the resources to compete with media organisations, therefore cannot hope to race against media organisations for readership, popularity ratings, and the like.
In fact, the only way for individuals to successfully compete with the media is to happen to be at the scene when an event occurs. This is, naturally, very difficult for any one blogger to do.
Complementing the mainstream media
Before one gets any false impressions, though, I am not advocating direct competition with the mainstream media. Instead, I am putting forth a way to complement it. The media’s resources, unrivalled in the blogosphere, allows for communication of current events, facts, and information that the world thrives on.
Social and political activists, based on what they know of the current situation, can then use blogs and other alternative media to advocate change, to realise their dream of a better country.
Because of these problems, I believe that activist bloggers, bloggers who use their blogs as platforms to express ideas and inspire change, should attempt a different approach: the proactive approach. Instead of responding to events reported in the media, bloggers should instead pre-empt and go beyond the media, in three ways.
A proactive approach to blogging
Firstly, they could write on possible future scenarios. This is an extension of the conventional approach.
Utilising this approach, they extend their writing, throwing up future possibilities that could result from an issue after careful analysis. For example, imagine that oil prices have gone up. By this approach, future topics for writing include: a prediction of future economic performance, effects on the household, effects on the country, possible encouragement of alternative energy research, and so on.
Then, the writers may follow through by explaining why these events happen, personal thoughts on this issue, and so on.
In writing about these future scenarios, bloggers can gain more readers because people base their future actions on current knowledge. If people know about these future possibilities now, then they would take action sooner, instead of waiting for these future events to occur, hopefully for the better. Using this approach, the more accurate and incisive a blogger’s analysis and predictions are, the better his reputation; the better his reputation, the higher his readership; the higher his readership, the further his reputation spreads, and so on.
Going beyond the MSM
Secondly, bloggers could cover issues that the media has not covered.
This approach is one of the harder ones, because of a seeming lack of material, and the fact that this has to be balanced with readership (unless, of course, you don’t care about readership figures). This is most useful for causes that receive very little attention in the media and/or the blogosphere, like the environment, economics, and the like.
If successful, bloggers would be able to raise awareness of these issues to the general public, and then inspire people to action. Remember that the end result of communication, intentional or not, is always action. If you want people to take action on particular issues that are close to your heart, but unknown to the world, you must first tell them that these issues exist. Hence, the second approach.
A controversial approach
Thirdly, bloggers could cover issues that the media cannot, or will not, cover. This is naturally the most controversial approach, one that could potentially result in lawsuits if one is not careful, or at least a strongly worded note from certain parties.
The most obvious issue is politics, specifically certain actions undertaken by the Government. The more sensitive ones include race and religion, and all issues branching from there. To avoid unnecessary heartbreak, one should adopt a neutral, objective tone, and to keep a clear focus on what you intend to put forth.
I myself have written articles on hate speech, and its links to freedom of speech, without facing censure from the authorities. One must also bear in mind the current times: an article condemning a particular religion shortly after extremists from said religion commit a terrorist act will only fuel the flames. This approach is best utilised when there is an issue that the public feels strongly about, but is too afraid to bring it up, for any number of reasons.
Effecting change through “activist-blogging”
Activist bloggers, through this approach, can communicate to a wider audience, hopefully with less trouble, and inspire the kind of change one hopes for, to see through one’s vision of one’s country.
These approaches provide a relative superiority to the mainstream media. They go deeper than what the media can or will report, most of the time. They cover more issues than the media ever will.
More importantly, they harness the power of individuals loosely bound by a common goal. Bloggers do not have to work in concert to raise an issue. If a collection of bloggers were to write about a single issue, that issue will emerge into the collective consciousness of the readers of their blogs, even if all of the bloggers have no communication with each other at all.
Activist bloggers can even go beyond, by advocating action and change, and inspiring their readers to take action through their words, to realise that change.
All the media truly does, and can do, is to report facts, and sometimes place a spin on things, and perhaps throw in the odd analysis. Sometimes, these facts alone are enough to inspire action, though activist bloggers should never work under this assumption: if anything, the change could be for the worse.
Any propaganda within the mainstream media cannot drown out the collective voice of hundreds of thousands of bloggers, working in concert or as individuals, due to the sheer volume and variety of views raised, and the Internet’s inherent freedom. When these views, raised by activist bloggers, reach the people, and inspire people to take action, then these bloggers would have fulfilled their goals: to communicate ideas, and to enact change.
Blogging is the next weapon in the arsenal of activists around the world. Before they can enact change, they must first go beyond, and be proactive. Only then can they arise, communicate, and inspire.
About the author:
Benjamin is a 17-year-old Year Two Junior College pupil. He specialises in political theory, philosophy, and other social issues that catch his eye from time to time. He believes that democracy rests on frank debate; consequently, to reach as wide an audience base as possible, he maintains a blog here: Words Of The Lionheart