Minister for Communications and Information (MCI), Yaacob Ibrahim, accused “prominent bloggers” of not speaking up against what he described as false information being propagated online during the recent haze episode in Singapore. He gave some specific examples, including the incident where a screenshot of the PSI of “393”, for which NEA was accused of removing from its website, went viral. He also pointed to how Ravi Philemon had posted about how the masks were not going to be distributed to the public.
[Read Ravi’s reply here. It is worth noting that the Health Minister, Gan Kim Yong, revealed – in today’s Parliamentary sitting as well – that the 9.5 million masks were not meant for the general public, but that they were meant for healthcare workers, if the H7N9 should hit S’pore.]
The minister, understandably, would grasp at straws to hold up the set of MDA Internet regulations which have been found to contain many holes in it. And thus, we had expected that he would use the recent haze episode to prop up his arguments and justification for tighter Internet control.
But the minister, as with his set of regulations, is sadly wrong and mistaken.
First of all, the term “prominent bloggers” is meaningless. Who is a “prominent blogger”? By what criteria is he such?
Second, who confers such a term or title on anyone? By what authority is this conferred?
Third, even if someone is conferred the title of “prominent blogger”, why should being “prominent” entail more responsibility to “speak up” against anything?
Fourth, one may be a blogger but that does not mean he is also the Internet police, or should be expected to be such.
Fifth, even if one were to speak up against such “unacceptable postings”, how does one know the truth of the matter in the first place? Just because NEA denied that it had posted a PSI of 393 on its website and had removed it, does not mean that it is the absolute truth, or that it is even true. The question is: at that point in time, when the haze situation was changing by the hour and information was flowing fast from several sources, how does one determine which is true and which is not?
So, in essence, the accusation by the minister is meaningless, misguided and yes, ignorant.
The argument, proferred by the minister, that regulations are needed because even “prominent bloggers” have failed to speak up against certain incidents, is itself faulty. This is because one would and could then argue that because one has spoken up against such incidents, regulations would be unnecessary. I am sure the government does not accept such an argument.
For if it did, then regulations would indeed be unnecessary – and this is because there have been many times when the Internet community spoke up against undesirable postings, from the racist ones to the distasteful ones.
The minister, and others in the Government, who slam the online community for not speaking up are clearly ignorant of what goes on online. For if they were not, they would know that the online community spoke up and did so forcefully against the racist postings of China student Sun Xu; of the distasteful racist posting of former NTUC employee Amy Cheong; of even racist remarks by former PAP MPs long ago; of the derogatory remarks directed at Singaporeans by several ministers.
They also spoke up and raised pertinent questions and issues of public interest, and in the event protecting the interest of the public. For example, the recent issue of the PAP company, Action Information Management (AIM) and its dealings with town councils; the White Paper on population where the online community organised and went offline to make their voices heard; of the Internet bloggers coming together to speak up about their concerns on the new MDA rulings; and raising a multitude of questions and issues – throughout the years, in fact.
But what one would like to ask is this:
Where were Minister Yaacob and his colleagues when abhorrent postings were made by his party’s supporters? Where is minister Yaacob now when a vile posting about opposition politician Vincent Wijeysingha is being posted online? Where was Minister Yaacob when the newspapers splashed the pictures of the women from the Workers’ Party whom the newspaper insinuated were involved in having affairs with Yaw Shin Leong? Where was Minister Yaacob when the racist postings by China student Sun Xu, PAP member Jason Neo, and NTUC employee Amy Cheong were made? Did we hear a squeak from him?
It was the online community which spoke up and condemned all these.
So, let’s get one thing straight. Netizens are tired of this one-sided, biased, ignorant accusations and allegations repeatedly and regularly made against them by ministers who should know better.
If the minister want to make accusations, perhaps he should give it some thought first, and get himself better informed.
It is important that they do, for if they are not well-informed of what goes on online, they will then use these misguided and distorted views of theirs to introduce regulations and legislations to curb what should not be curbed in the first place.
As for “prominent bloggers” not speaking up, well, they in fact have. But the truth is that they are bloggers, they are not the Internet police those like Yaacob Ibrahim hope they are.
And as for Yaacob Ibrahim’s remarks in Parliament today, they are filled with so many contradictions that one can confidently say that the minister has become muddle-headed.
I kept shaking my head in Parliament today as I listened to the minister. His performance has not convinced me that the regulations had been thought-through.
When he was asked if he would still consult with stakeholders even though the regulations are already in place, he answered, no. He said it is subsidiary legislations and there is no need to consult.
But at the same time, he also said the MDA/MCI had consulted and indeed is still consulting with the 10 affected websites and even with the AIC (Asia Internet Coalition), made up of the so-called big four international Internet companies. It says something when your government would rather engage with foreign companies than with its own people.
It is thus not hard to see that the government is not interested in consulting or even engaging the ordinary, average online user, or blogger. It is only interested apparently in consulting and engaging businesses which are big enough.
And it thinks this is the best way to build trust between the government and the Singaporean public.
And oh, the minister also said he is not “shoving” the regulations down the throats of Singaporeans – but that is in fact exactly what he did.
As I said, the minister is muddle-headed, and we should all worry.