The Media Literacy Council (MLC), a 26-member Government-appointed committee to develop public awareness and education programmes relating to media literacy and cyber wellness, cautioned on 4 April against threatening Amos Yee.
In a Facebook post on its page, the MLC said, “We certainly shouldn’t be threatening harm and abuse against people we disagree with, as that is unbecoming of a civilized society.”
It added that “making threats is also against the law.”
The council, chaired by Professor Tan Cheng Han, issued the statement in the wake of 16-year old Amos Yee’s case.
Yee had posted a 8-minute video online which has allegedly “[wounded] the feelings of Christians”, insulted the late Lee Kuan Yew and thus causing “distress” to those who viewed it, and for an obscene caricature of Lee and former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Since then, threats and insults have been made against Yee, including some which had supported sexual assault against Yee and his rape in prison. (See here.)
One grassroots leader had posted online that he “would cut off his dick and stuff into his mouth”, referring to the teenager.
The People’s Association, which is the umbrella body overseeing all grassroots organisations and which appoints all grassroots leaders, was informed of the threat but has not responded to the incident. (See here.)
The MLC said it has observed that some were criticizing Amos’ appearance and his character as well.
“Even his parents were criticized for ‘not bringing him up properly’,” the council said.
“If we disagree with other people, we don’t have to insult and make personal attacks,” said the MLC. “Being emotional doesn’t solve anything and only makes things worse. We shouldn’t be insulting their family and friends too.”
The MLC, however, also criticised Yee’s video. It said the “data” Yee used in his video was “selective and inaccurate”.
The MLC did not elaborate what it was referring to.
Nonetheless, the council advised, “If we wanted to set Amos straight, we could have pointed this out in a logical argument, not criticize him for expressing his opinion.”
It added, “If we disagree, focus on the argument, not the person. We can put across our arguments in a civil and rational way.”
In 2013, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Bishan-Toa Payoh, Hri Kumar, urged Parliament to “act against hateful conduct online”.
“While rude expressions per se should not be restricted simply because they are unpleasant, we should be concerned when hate speech and hateful ideas are spread online,” the MP said.
“By vilifying, disparaging, ridiculing, or inciting violence against particular groups of people, hate speech threatens social cohesion and stability,” he added.
Under Singapore’s Protection from Harassment Act, which came into force last November, it is against the law “to cause the victim to believe that unlawful violence will be used by any person against the victim or any other person” via “any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or [to] make any threatening, abusive or insulting communication to another person.”
Neither the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) nor the Singapore police have indicated if they would be taking action against those who have made the threats or the insulting communication directed at Amos Yee.
The full statement by the Media Literacy Council:
In the wake of the Amos Yee video, we observed that many people contributed the following:
– Criticizing his appearance and his character
– Even his parents were criticized for “not bringing him up properly”
– There were many comments that threatened harm and hurled abuse at him
– Others criticized him for his vulgarities, and the timing of his video (disrespectful amidst a major outpouring of grief)
– Some people supported Amos’s right to express his opinion however he wants
Here are a few tips for how we can all show respect and responsibility online.
- If we have a view or opinion to express, the reality is that we need to say it in a way that would be acceptable to people. How and when we make our point is important.
- If we disagree with other people, we don’t have to insult and make personal attacks. Being emotional doesn’t solve anything and only makes things worse. We shouldn’t be insulting their family and friends too.
- We certainly shouldn’t be threatening harm and abuse against people we disagree with, as that is unbecoming of a civilized society (making threats is also against the law).
- If we disagree, focus on the argument, not the person. We can put across our arguments in a civil and rational way. For eg. we can debate rationally about whether freedom of speech without responsibility is good or bad. Agree to disagree, but respect people.
- So many people were caught up in their emotions that many did not think critically about the data that Amos used in his video. The data is selective and inaccurate. If we wanted to set Amos straight, we could have pointed this out in a logical argument, not criticize him for expressing his opinion.
- We should all be aware of our personal biases. Before we conclude whether we want to agree with someone’s views or not, it’s always good practice to think critically about the logic of their arguments, and the credibility of their data, rather than accept anything at face value. Make informed choices by being discerning.
Let’s create a better internet together – whether we are expressing our opinions, commenting on someone else’s view or interacting with another person. Online is just like offline, but the impact and consequences to society and to self are amplified online, whether good or bad.