“There are many instances online where people snap photographs of others in public spaces for the purposes of subjecting them to online ridicule and scorn,” Member of Parliament (MP), Hri Kumar Nair, said in March 2013 in Parliament.
Mr Kumar was raising the problem of online “hate speech” and “hateful ideas” and the need for privacy laws in Singapore. While Mr Kumar gave examples of a photograph of a mangled body in an accident and pictures of innocent women involved in the recent sex scandal cases being posted online, his remarks could very well have also be pointing the finger at the Straits Times’ portal, STOMP.
The acronym is short for Straits Times Online Mobile Print.
Both the Straits Times and STOMP fall under the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) umbrella.
SPH itself is headed by a former Cabinet minister, Dr Lee Boon Yang.
A petition to shut down STOMP was launched recently and is beginning to garner wide support.
On Sunday evening, there were about 2,200 signatures on the petition. But by Monday morning, it had more than doubled to almost 6,000.
The petition is started apparently by one Robin Li.
“Netizens have been contributing fabricated stories in the expense of other citizens, picking on national service men, promotes cyber-bullying and cause unrest among fellow citizens by invading their privacy,” the petition said about the content contributed to and published by STOMP.
“Stomp refuses to acknowledge the false stories, and chooses to go ahead and publish for the sake of ‘citizen journalism’,” it added.
“STOMP has failed to rectify and set simple sensible guidelines before any irresponsible netizen contributes a fabricated story without getting the right facts.”
The petition comes following concerns raised by not only those like Mr Kumar, but also from the government itself, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, of the “tone” of online content.
Just about 5 months ago in November, PM Lee said, “We must fight back against trolling, and provide a safe, responsible online environment which promotes constructive participation.”
And in January, PM Lee said, following the incident involving expat Anton Casey’s remarks about the “stench of public transport” in Singapore:
“Yes, somebody has done something wrong, repudiate it, condemn it, but do not lower ourselves to that same level to behave in a way which really makes us all so ashamed of ourselves to become abusive, hateful mobs, especially online and anonymously.”
“You scold, you swear, you curse — all the wrong instincts get fed and in a group, there are certain group dynamics and it is like a pack of hounds hunting, which is bad.”
However, the action of STOMP seems to have escaped the eyes of the authorities which have so far kept silent on it.
Recently, STOMP announced it was launching a “Don’t be a Social Media Idiot” campaign. In short, the “campaign” is to shame “idiots” on the social media platform, Facebook.
“We feel that netizens should exercise discipline and act responsibly on social media and be aware that there are always repercussions to their actions,” STOMP said on its website.
“We also hope that parents and schools will take appropriate action against the facebook idiots.”
When asked by The Online Citizen (TOC) to comment on the campaign, the chairman of the Media Literacy Council (MLC), expressed reservations about it.
“My concern stems from the fact that STOMP is attempting to normalise and legitimise what are essentially acts of Internet vigilantism,” said Mr Tan Cheng Han, who heads the 21-member council, appointed by the government in 2012.
“Accordingly, I do not feel that the campaign is useful or appropriate,” Mr Tan added.
Another member of the MLC, Associate Professor Cherian George, said:
“Unfortunately, from its very start, STOMP has pandered to people’s desire to see or read about others behaving badly. Since it is so easy to find such examples, this ends up being a cheap way to increase eyeballs. Its new campaign, which will “regularly highlight such errant behaviour” on Facebook, seems to be in that same vein.”
The Minister for Communications and Information (MCI), Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, has been silent on the issue about STOMP but he did say in July last year that it was important for online news sites to “report incidents and occurrences responsibly.”
“So we have to hold the news sites, online sites to a slightly higher standards and responsibility compared to the class licence,” he said.
Indeed, the Straits Times claims to hold to such high standards, but the main paper itself had gotten into trouble with the law in recent months.
In January 2013, the Straits Times editor, Warren Fernandez, and SPH, were given a “stern warning” by the police for conducting an illegal by-election poll in Punggol East during the elections. And just in February this year, it was criticised for being in “plain contempt of court” for publishing a front page story, while the Committee of Inquiry hearings were ongoing, of an interview with the bus driver involved in the Little India riot.
STOMP has also been accused of promoting trolling, hate speech, racism and xenophobia. Some of its behaviour have also been likened to harassment.
It has even fabricated stories and published them, and edited photographs to present distorted stories of incidents, such as this one just two weeks ago: “Straits Times portal’s inaccurate report about NSman on train”.
STOMP was recently described by the Straits Times as “Singapore’s premier citizen journalism portal.”
However, Assoc Prof George disputes this and said as far back as 2006 that he does not see the portal as “citizen journalism”.
“I don’t consider STOMP to be citizen journalism, because it puts the public on tap, not on top,” he said.
He also disagreed with the Straits Times’ portrayal of STOMP as “the cutting edge of citizen journalism in Singapore.”
“To me, it is not the source of facts or opinions that distinguishes citizen journalism from the mainstream – just because a story or picture comes from a reader does not make it a piece of citizen journalism.”
Indeed, some see STOMP as nothing more than a sensationalistic site which panders to the base and voyeuristic tendencies of some members of the public in order to catch eyeballs.
STOMP is headed by editor Azhar Kasman.
Read the petition here: “Close down STOMP.com.sg”.
Also: “Zero tolerance for intolerance? Try STOMP”.