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Wee Shu Min, Li Hongyi…nothing is sacred anymore with the net

By Yeo Toon Joo

Does the internet and its speed and openness change the way we communicate?

Of course, the internet has drastically altered the norms and practices of open communication, and even private conversation. It opens a pandora's box! Anything you wish to disseminate or promulgate, idiotic or edifying, can be done instantly by just hitting a button.

It has changed forever the channels through which we communicate, and the way we communicate, and say things.

Anyone can have his soap box to cast his pearls or spew garbage. No blog, and even email between friends and associates, is considered private. Nothing is sacred anymore.

Everything, even with the laws on defamation and libel, can be aired and exposed, which to a large extent is also good: oppressive, dictatorial regimes will find it more difficult to cover up misdeeds, at least to a literate, internet savvy/accessible society.

What is credible?

The dictum, however, remains unchanged: misinformation and disinformation travel faster than information.

Now with the mushrooming of blogs, you open the floodgates to the "publish and be damned" group as well as those who have sensible and beneficial things to say, and who know how to say it sensibly and sensitively. The problem for most who log on is which is a credible blog?

Many bloggers who are serious people with meaningful things to say, and who have an interest and stake in society's good, are normally more measured in what they post on their blogs. Unlike those who do not have much to say, but say it anyway: they publish what they like whether true or false, useful or hurtful; who cares!

The blog following public can tell, over time, which worthwhile blogs to go into. Of course, there are many others who go into mischievous or titillating blogs for a flutter, a cheap thrill. They help these blogs to flourish for a time.

TOC

Some blogs (e.g. TOC), though not a majority, exercise a great deal of care and are circumspect in what they write and publish.

So social-political blogs believe in the cause and good of society, and strive to help it be better informed and more reflective on the goings on of and in our Singapore society - governing and governed - and matters that are to the good of society in general.

TOC considers carefully before publishing an article. Every item, even if controversial, must have merit before it is cleared for posting on TOC's blog. Of course, visitors' comments are not vetted the same way, except when they give cause for serious offence or risk breaking the law.

Hazards of blogging

Two examples of the hazards of blogging and emailing are the recent furore over the protest letter/email by prime minister Lee Hsien Loong's son, Li Hongyi, and the less recent Wee Shu Min controversy following her offensive response to Derek's lament about job opportunities in Singapore.

We still need to know the fuller facts behind Li Hongyi's action, even with all the postings and comments flying over the blogosphere; things do not always meet the eye!

But both cases provide evidence that nothing is private or sacrosanct on the internet. So, if you write anything on your (private?) blog or send/circulate an email, be prepared to see it disseminated to all and sundry.

In the case of Wee Shu Min: if she is as intelligent as she should be, then the controversial, vituperative piece she penned on the job opportunity moanings by Derek, betrays a lack of not only sensitivity and good judgment, but may also indicate certain character flaws.

Certainly, for me, it rings some alarm bells for Singapore over our young generation of privileged Singaporeans.

A platform for all

We have people of all colours and creed, and different ilk. The internet gives a platform to all, including those who would have made ready recruits for Hitler's Nazi Youth arm and the Ku Klux Klan of America's rabidly racist South. The internet places almost unbridled power in their hands to publish whatever they wish, including views detrimental to society.

Because there is no immediate censorship, bloggers or internet correspondents are definitely emboldened to say more, and with less restraint. Few realise that the wise are people with fewer words. Many bloggers definitely do fit this description.

You can publish almost anonymously, though anyone who persists in publishing rubbish or misleading and harmful information risk being exposed sooner or later. I believe internet policing, though not that slick, is not all that slack.

A blessing

Overall, the internet is a blessing in so many ways. Blogging was a natural progression or outcome, even if few had envisaged that.

Its impact on the world has been phenomenal. But, as stated earlier, the majority of Singaporeans are not yet using the internet or hooked up to the furious debates flying over the blogosphere.

It would be a mistake for some to think that what they read on the internet represents popular opinion, or for others to ignore the views aired as those of an insignificant minority.

This article was written as a reply to questions from the Straits Times.