Last Friday (July 20), the Straits Times contacted me to ask for my views for their article, “Internet users learning netiquette the hard way” (ST, July 25). The following are the questions and my responses.
Straits Times (ST): I see that you have put your name down on the blog and not shy behind annonymity (sic). But when you blog, are you consciously aware that there are people reading you? If so, do you hold back on talking about certain topics or word your arguments carefully?
Gerald (GG): Yes, I am aware that many people in Singapore and in other countries read my articles (which I write for not just my own blog but other online publications like TheOnlineCitizen.com and OhmyNews International as well). I take a very considered approach to my articles. I do not write things that could be deemed illegal in Singapore. For example, I refrain from making ad hominem attacks on people, and I am careful not to reveal any official secrets (which I might have learned during my NS or when I was a foreign service officer in MFA). However, I do not hold back criticism when I feel criticism is due. For example, I wrote a series of articles last year arguing against the latest GST hike in Singapore. (See the articles here, here, here and here.) But even when I criticise, I try to focus on the issue rather than the person(s). Where possible, I also try to present alternative solutions, although I don’t believe that all criticism needs to be accompanied by solutions.
ST: What do you think of the Wee Shu Min case? I’m thinking if she said it quietly to her friends, nothing would have happened. In this case, it was the Internet, a public area where people read and take notice of what you say, that blew the issue up. Its abit like racism, isn’t it? One can be racist among racist and nobody would take notice. But broadcast it, combined with the fact that one is a public figure, or related to one, and that person can be in big trouble. Would you agree?
GG: The dismissive and arrogant tone of her online rant was interpreted by many Singaporeans as being reflective of the disconnect that some of our “elite” have from mainstream society. I do not agree that one can say nasty or racist things about others in private, but not in public. Sooner or later, one will be held to account. For example, your friends might hear what you mutter in private, and decide to broadcast your words on their blog. But I do agree that public figures (and their relatives) need to be aware that their words carry more weight than that of the ordinary man on the street.
ST: The spread of information over the net is also stupendous. Immediately almost. Do you take care in verifying information before writing or blogging about it?
GG: Yes, I never publish anything without verifying the facts. I see that as my responsibility as a citizen journalist. There is a lot of information on the Net, but it is not as difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff as many “blogophobes” like to make it out to be. Adults should have no problem telling apart a false and misleading website from a genuine one. I think schools and parents have a responsibility to inculcate some media literacy in our young, rather than try to shield them from the Net. But I feel the mainstream media and some of our politicians do bloggers a disservice when they keep perpetuating the myth that blogosphere (and the Internet in general) is “full of clever propaganda, inflammatory opinions, half-truths and untruths” (see this article of mine). I think Singaporean bloggers in general are very responsible citizen journalists.
(Verbal question over a subsequent phone call by the journalist. May not be verbatim.)
ST: Have you ever gotten yourself in trouble because of something you blogged about?
GG: No, I am always very careful about what I blog about.
(Another verbal question)
ST: Do you know anyone who has gotten himself or herself in trouble because of their blog? We are writing an article highlighting some recent incidents where people got burnt because of comments they published on their blogs.
GG: I am in touch with a number of fellow bloggers and I am not aware of any of them who have gotten in trouble because of their blog. I don’t think this is a very a big issue in Singapore.
I’m aware that several other social-political bloggers were also approached by the ST for this article. It seems the questions asked were almost identical. Dansong has published his responses on Singapore Angle. I notice only quotes from university professors and MPs made the final cut. Oh well… :)
What I was actually uncomfortable with was the slant of the article from the outset. It was obvious from the questions that the ST was trying to frame the article in terms of “Singapore bloggers are an irresponsible lot and the nonsense they write always gets them in trouble”.
Is this another example of how the mainstream media is trying to make the new media look like an amateurish and unreliable source of information?