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Don't snuff out the breath of the Internet.

Moderating the Internet – lets hold the wild horses

Andrew Loh

Each time the issue of moderating the Internet surfaces, I have images of wild horses running round, trampling on and destroying  all in its wake, in some mad rush fueled by some invisible and unknown fear that not doing so will jeopardize their lives.

It could very well be an apt analogy for the way the government feels towards the Internet – and the blogosphere, in particular.  Whenever something new or unfamiliar appears, its first thought is: “How do WE control it?”

I was thus quite amused – and sad – when I read the Straits Times special feature on the topic in last Saturday’s edition. Titled, “Moderate so Govt can de-regulate”, it reflected views from various quarters, including academics, MPs and bloggers. They suggested various ways in which moderation could be implemented.

What is unfortunate is that none of them thought or felt that the Internet (blogosphere) should be left to evolve on its own.

The background to the Straits Times piece was the recent attack on MP Seng Han Thong and the subsequent “torrent of vitriol” on the Internet, which Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Mr Lui Tuck Yew, had said was directed at MP Seng, instead of the person who had injured him.

As my friend, Melvin Tan, pointed out, virtually no blogger took or expressed pleasure at the attack on Mr Seng. Thus, we are kept wondering what or where the minister for Mica was referring to. And no one has thus far asked Mr Lui for the sources of the “nasty comments” about Mr Seng made on the Internet.

But back to moderation.

The Internet is a relatively young colt, not yet a full-fledge horse able to make big strides or run free. It barely can stand on its own, at the moment. It has just begun on a journey of discovery – wide-eyed and all. Yet, here we are contemplating, scheming and searching for ways and means to put a harness on it, to control it. To keep it within the bounds of an imaginary stable. Perhaps with barbed-wire fences around it too.

As with all things, the Internet will evolve. Bloggers will evolve and I believe also that Internauts will be able to distinguish between the rational and the mad.

The focus, instead, should be in the schools and the general public. Much can be done to inculcate a better and deeper sense of awareness of the pitfalls of the Internet. As for socio-political bloggers, one alternative is for the more well-read, “credible” blogs to allow space to highlight or carry links on its website of other “credible” bloggers. This way, over time, visitors know which are the more credible blogs. This is one of the ways “moderation” can be applied, and the best part is that the authorities do not have to be involved.

It is, however, something which will take time to take root and work. This is where I suspect the authorities have a problem. “Something needs to be done NOW!”, is what I feel they’re saying in panic.

I do hope that we can dispense with the usual top-down “either-you-do-it-or-I-will-do-it-for-you” mentality.

There is already a whole barnful of legislations to deal with troublemakers.

The Internet is clearly the only free space we have in S’pore, Hong Lim Park notwithstanding. Give it time to evolve on its own. Let the colt mature and have time – and space – to grow and discover.

Don’t snuff out its breath.

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