This interview with Robin Li first appeared on Mumbrella. We thank the editor for allowing us republish it here.
On 7 April, Robin Li started a campaign on Change.org that called on Stomp, Singapore Press Holdings’ gossip site, to be closed down. The campaign has drawn significant support, with more than 22,000 people signing his petition.
In this interview with Mumbrella, Li, who some believed was a pseudonym for Howard Lee, the commentaries editor of independent news site The Online Citizen (Lee has denied this), talks about his motives for wanting STOMP to be shut down, the worst stories on the website, and whether he thinks his campaign will actually work.
Why do you feel that Stomp should be closed down now (people have been complaining about it for years). How do you feel it has got worse in recent times?
Over the years, the initial intent of STOMP seem to be drifting away, and the thought of “citizen journalism” becomes more blurry. We see continuous amount of articles submitted by user (known as STOMPERS), and though some of these articles are necessary for the public’s attention, others strive towards petty grievances.
For instance, here’s one article which I highlighted that was probably the last straw for many [In March,STOMP reported that a national serviceman wouldn’t give up his seat on a train for an elderly passenger, but it later emerged that there was a free seat where the lady could sit.] I believe the question on many citizens’ mind is, how is this fabricated article being published bypassing the moderators? Or is it just deliberate negligence, posting it for the sake of “clicks” on the site? “Civilian journalism”?
Can you tell us anything about your background, and the reason for campaigning about Stomp?
[Li does not reveal anything about his personal background.] Although the campaign might not work, I thought it was still worth a shot. I’m surprised by the overwhelming support. It does show that there is a voice among the citizens wanting the site to close for various reasons which can’t be ignored. STOMP is becoming a place for people to shame their fellow citizens, cyber-bullying and the obvious case of invading one’s privacy. People claim that there is a need for freedom of speech, which it is understandable. BUT freedom of speech does not mean freedom to infringe on another person.
A friend once shared with me, “If speech degrades another based on racial, language or cultural differences, it is not freedom of speech”. It feels that somewhere out there, there are people who care more about their free speech than the right to privacy.
When you come across articles that shame a fellow citizen on petty matters, and you browse through the comments, you will be able to see examples of hate speech; derogatory remarks on race, gender and beliefs. I was told the average age of a STOMP reader is between 14-20. Do we want our future generations to think that it is permissible to fabricate stories just to be a headline grabber on STOMP? Do we want to teach future generations that an argument can be won through racist remarks, hate speech and xenophobia?
Do you know anyone who has been personally affected by Stomp?
As I mentioned earlier, the last straw was the case of how a fabricated story targeted a national serviceman… I would say, I am puzzled why STOMPERS are making those who are serving the country a target to make a headline.
Here are some examples of STOMP articles targeting national servicemen:
- NS guy should have known better than to drink on train
- Surely, these NSmen’s backpacks don’t need a seat?
- How to defend S’pore like that? Soldier makes boy carry his field pack and duffel bag
We do not know how many of these stories are fabricated for the sake of shaming those serving their country.
Even commuters on public transport aren’t spared. Anyone sitting on a reserved seat has a high chance of having his or her photo taken and being uploaded to the site. Not only that, but the STOMPERs tend to create a story to make the so-called wrongdoing sound a lot worse.
I believe that everyone pays the same fare. If there is an empty seat, why not sit down. I also believe that Singaporeans are courteous and will give up their seats to those who need them more than they do. It doesn’t have to be a seat marked, “reserved seating”.
Here are some examples of STOMP stories on the so-called misuse of priority seats on public transport.
- Ungentlemanly, or is there another reason? Man takes priority seat. Wife and kid sit on floor
- Woman remains on train’s reserve seat — even when there were elder commuters around her
- Abled-bodied people occupying reserved seats on the MRT
- Man takes up priority seat on MRT — by sleeping ever so soundly
There are many of such cases of STOMPERS humiliating commuters just by whipping out their phones and posting “a story”. Just type “reserved seat” on the search filter of the site. Public transport is like heaven for STOMPERs to snap and upload stories, factual or otherwise.
What do you realistically think the response from SPH will be to his petition?
The chances are low. On Marketing Interactive, SPH made a response denying such accusations mentioned. The evidence proves otherwise, although perhaps it’s still not enough to justify closing the site.
If STOMP doesn’t close, SPH at least needs to rectify the problem. They need to investigate posts before uploading them for public viewing. Speculative posts that are not fact-checked and are based on sensationalised reports is not journalism. It is unethical, shows a lack of integrity and is embarrassing to come across articles that shame us as Singaporeans. It makes everyone look bad.
On 13 November, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech: ”We must fight back against trolling, and provide a safe, responsible online environment which promotes constructive participation.” STOMP provides a platform that contradicts the Prime Minister’s view.
I am proud to be Singaporean, and I care about my fellow citizens who have been victimised by STOMP and its users. We want actual news that informs society intelligently and accurately without pandering to sensationalization, slander and voyeurism.
Image credit: Screen capture from Stomp. And no, TOC did not fabricate this.