A message sent on Hwa Chong Institution’s (HCI) Integrated e-Message Board to all its junior college (JC) one and two students ‘advised (them) to refrain from posting or reposting messages, tweets, posts, web links, photos, videos, anything pertaining to the Singapore General Elections (GE) 2020 on both their private social media platforms, and any social media platforms associated with the school”.
The messagel subject read: [Discipline] Advice with regards to Student Online Behavior for the Singapore General Election 2020.
It was sent to the cohorts on Monday night at 10.30pm (29 June).
The reason cited in the email was “the context of these (social media activities) do not allow longer, more nuanced responses”, and the issues pertaining to the GE tend to be more complex.
In the concluding paragraph, HCI expressed concern for students who may be involved in “some unfortunate incidents” and asked of students to inform them should they discover any such online behaviors by fellow JC mates, so that the school “would try their best to help the affected students”.
Most of the comments expressed on Facebook vocalised disapproval of an education institution seeking to censor their students and controlling their private online activity.
In HCI’s Mission and Vision statement written on its school site, it strives to “nurture leaders in Research, Industry and Government to serve the nation”, and “Empower students to Live with Passion and Lead with Compassion”. One of its core values also implored students to “have a social responsibility and duty to serve the community and nation”, and “develop a Synthesising Mind, i.e. to draw, process and transform salient and reliable information from different sources—both offline and online—into practical knowledge that benefits the larger community”.
TOC reached out to HCI and though the spokesperson did not respond to queries on the disciplinary actions the students will face if they engaged in online behaviour, HCI provided this official statement on Friday evening (3 July):
At Hwa Chong Institution, it is important to us that our students are engaged in society and in public life. We see it as part of our responsibility to educate students on national issues so that they grow to become informed citizens. For example, the school‘s Student National Education Council (SNEC), which seeks to enhance civic-mindedness and the understanding of national issues, conducts regular student-led dialogues and other activities. During General Paper lessons, robust discussions on national and civic matters also take place often.
We certainly do not want our students to be apathetic regarding national issues. But because of their youth, we also do not want them to be inadvertently embroiled in agendas beyond their control. Our intention is not to silence students’ voices, nor to curb their interest in national issues. Instead, we encourage our students to engage actively in discussions and even debates on national issues, in a safe environment.
The platforms used and the timing for such discourse are important considerations. It is the school’s position that social media is not a suitable platform for students to be discussing their views on national issues, especially during an election period. Students’ posts could be screen-captured, taken out of context and circulated further, even if the original posts were published in their private accounts. Such digital footprints could remain even if the posts were removed.
Therefore, the advice we have given our students serves to remind them of the importance of exercising care and sensitivity on all social media platforms, even on their own private accounts, given the public nature of social media.
The school has defended its position, by saying social media was not a good platform to discuss national issues during campaign season.
Edit: We apologise for the statement which noted that the school did not provide a response and have edited the piece to reflect that.