How to do a Bertha Henson

By Luvv K.



I refer to the article “Ten Commandments for Bloggers” (Jul 17). The article, written by journalist Bertha Henson, proposes ten rules for bloggers who blog about socio-political issues, in relation to the current debate on whether a code of conduct governing the Internet is necessary in Singapore.

In alluding to Minister Yaacob Ibrahim singling out blogger Ravi Philemon in Parliament for his Facebook repost on the availability of N95 masks during the recent haze crisis, Ms Henson wrote:

“Commandment No. 3: Thou shalt not pass off other people’s postings as thine own

‘Also known as plagiarism and common in the offline world as well. Another variation is to do a Ravi P and simply use other people’s comments and say “but it wasn’t me who said it’’. Or do a TRS and claim “What to do? We’re just a platform for views.”

‘In other words, you can’t be responsible for third-party content. A good enough disclaimer do you reckon? I think not. If you deliberately put something on your site or report something, you must be accountable for that something even if the source is a third party. That’s quite different from letting nutters post comments. Some due diligence has to be exercised. What a bummer but there you go….”

As an undergraduate studying Mass Communication, I found this article to be quite worrisome for the following reasons:

First, the article expressly implies that Mr Philemon passed off another’s comment as his own and said “but it wasn’t me who said it”, when asked to take accountability, synonymising plagiarism to “doing a Ravi P.”

This observation is peculiar as Mr Philemon’s Facebook post clearly acknowledges that he is sharing a friend’s comments. This is a common function of the social networking sites like Facebook which allow users to repost and share posts and experiences among friends.

Mr Philemon has also verified (in a press statement and clarifications to media outlets) that he did not make an assertion by posting what he did, adding that he was quoting a friend verbatim. This clarification tallies with his original repost, which begins with: “A friend who prefers to remain anonymous just sent me this note…”

This was later confirmed by the originator of the comment (link)

So, going by Ms Henson’s logic, is everyone who shares or reposts something on Facebook (or any other social networking site, for that matter) guilty of plagiarism?

Besides this, Ms Henson also corresponds Mr Philemon’s repost and subsequent clarifications to an irresponsibility towards “third-party content”. Expecting someone to be accountable for their own posts is reasonable. Expecting someone to explain why they reposted something is also reasonable (which Mr Philemon has done in previous statements). But expecting someone to be fully responsible for the comments of another? Tad bit far-fetched, in my opinion.

I was also surprised by the association Ms Henson made between Mr Philemon and The Real Singapore. The Real Singapore is a site which is moderated by anonymous editors. Mr Philemon is a well-known blogger who has accounted for all of his activities. Making such an unwarranted comparison is surprisingly fallacious – fallacious because it’s misleading and surprising because I’d expect such red herrings from someone with lower journalistic credentials, not someone as reputed as Ms Henson.

But perhaps what’s most bizarre is the fact that Mr Philemon’s repost even made it to Ms Henson’s list of ‘commandments’ intended to govern the blogosphere – not posts made on personal Facebook accounts.

I wonder what all of these subliminal connotations and allegations mean. In fact, I’m at a lost as to what Ms Henson is trying to achieve by delineating rules for bloggers in a time where most bloggers have come out against regulatory frameworks aimed at controlling the Internet. Is it an attempt at being a modern-day Moses or is Ms Henson simply #doingaBerthaH?


Luvv K is an undergraduate at Oklahoma City University.

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