Friday, 29 September 2023

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Straits Times’ perplexing definition of ‘netizens’


The Straits Times (ST) seems to think netizens are only those who comment on the ST’s discussion boards.

Following up on the now-infamous Ris Low ‘scandal’, the Straits Times ran a story today with the headline Netizens slam Ris Low.

However, the ‘netizens’ quoted in the article were traced back to comments that were posted on a single thread on the Straits Times (online) Discussion Board in response to the reports “Ris guilty of credit fraud” and “I will not give up crown” (ST, 25 Sept 09). Based on the ‘quotes from netizens’ used in the article, it appears that the reporter (one Ms Felicia Wong) came to the conclusion that netizens ‘had a field day heaping criticisms’ primarily from reading 23 comments posted between 9.28am and 12.09pm today[1] on this particular thread.

TOC counted 7 ‘netizen’ quotes in the article of which two were attributed to named readers, one was named but not attributed to any source, and the remaining four were anonymous. And of these seven quotes, 5 were undeniably from the 23 comments mentioned earlier with the remaining two quotes whose sources could not be ascertained being referred to as coming from ‘commenters’ (one would naturally assume these would be commenters of the thread in question).

Where there was a healthy dose of ‘commenter’ and ‘netizen’ being freely interchanged to refer to those who left comments on this single Straits Times Discussion Board thread, there was only one reference to netizens ‘in the blogosphere’ which was ambiguously followed by a quote from a ‘commenter’ as well. Thus, it remains unclear if the two ‘netizen’ quotes that appear not to have been sourced from the thread in question were from reliable online sources either.

Netizens are ‘Tom Dick or Harry’ combined

With the countless well-read local websites and news aggregators, it is overly simplistic and premature to arrive at any conclusion based on just comments shared through an isolated discussion thread. It is even more incredulous to make unjustified sweeping statements such as ‘Netizens slam Ris Low’ and ‘Netizens had a field day heaping criticisms’ based on this extremely myopic analysis of limited information. Pointedly, even among the seven quotes selected for this article, only 4 were outright criticisms and 2 were even sympathetic, which directly contradicted the implicit suggestion of the article’s title that all (or most) netizens had a strong negative reaction against Ms Ris Low.

The universally-accepted concept of netizen is that of an individual who participates actively online for discussion, thus any attempt to represent or describe netizens collectively must include the analysis of a (very) wide variety of sources. It is a fallacy, however, to lump netizenry as a single-minded entity in the first place as the far-reaching domain of netizens always ensures that viewpoints, perspectives and even emotive responses are mixed and somewhat (perpetually) balanced.

Thus netizens can never ALL be in agreement on any issue to begin with – we would say getting an overwhelming majority itself is a rarity – and that is indeed the very beauty of discourse. To suggest otherwise would necessitate a netizen outburst of – in the words of Congressman Joe Wilson[2] – “YOU LIE”.


Read also: Demonising the Internet – and bloggers.


[1]Google News records the time the report was released as around 1.00pm. (See here.)

[2] Joe Wilson, the Republican congressman from South Carolina, broke with protocol and shouted “You lie!” while Barack Obama delivered his speech to a joint session of Congress. (See here.)


Ris guilty of credit fraud – Straits Times.

‘I will not give up crown’ – Straits Times.

Netizens slam Ris Low – Straits Times.

Straits Times Discussion Board thread (comments are from the first 3 pages) –


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