Thursday, June 29, 2006

On the Blogger Registration Act

Hou, The Students' Notebook

Mr Leong writes about a hypothetical situation whereby all bloggers are required to register after an act of violence was induced by blogs, and in this case controversy will be akin to the enactment of the PATRIOT ACT after the September 11 attacks. (which is well covered elsewhere, so I shall not repeat.)

Now, instead of stopping here we consider a step further - suppose the government agrees with Mr de Sourza, and actually passes the Blogger Registration Act now. What are the possible consquences, on top of the issue of privacy?

  • Instructions Creep will occur. Most of us are familiar that the workings of the government will know that it is very likely to ask for exhaustive information before granting licenses to blog. This is assuming the government automatically grants them if they believe the information is correct and accurate, and that grounds of credentials are not considered. If they decide to include and warn you of its associated regulations, many will be too scared to even contemplate signing up for a blog.

  • There will be a loss of opinons. There are few people who blog anonymously for a very good reason, and that is those who are working within the government sector. They will face the fear of reprecussions and subject to harassment if they criticise the government's policies. Just as The Straits Times journalists have mentioned, civil servants and government employees are likely to turn into Yesmen in exchange for job security. Dissenting but useful feedback for the government to consider will simply dry up.

  • Singapore's "Nanny State" reputation will embolden. It will join the ranks of China and Cambodia in terms of Internet censorship and dismal human rights. This form of social control will be noted as a form of social control, similiar to the Chewing Gum Ban in the 90s. One may also compare the government to control blogs in Singapore similiar to Nicolae CeauČ™escu, who regulated the ownership and usage of typewriters (to control who was writing what) and the penalty of failure to register was death.

The negative implications from any invoking of a Blogger Registration Act in the forseeable future far outweights any benefits it brings (if there is any). Furthermore, most bloggers aren't anonymous. The Singapore blogosphere has the ability to be self-regulating, and to upset its ecology by introducing regulation is not only a bad idea to the blogospehere, but harmful to the country as well.

Part One : Not true to say bloggers hide under cloak of anonymity to rant against govt

Friday, June 23, 2006

Not true to say bloggers hide under cloak of anonymity to rant against govt

Hou, The Students' Notebook

Our letter to The Straits Times was published today. It is reproduced here for historical interest.

We refer to the letter 'Bloggers should have the conviction to stand behind any statements they make and not hide under the cloak of anonymity' by Lionel de Souza (ST, June 22). We believe that Mr de Souza's claim that bloggers usually hide under the cloak to rant against the government and others is seriously misguided.

Most bloggers reveal their real identities, as we can see from people such as Mr Lee Kin Mun (mrbrown) and Mr Benjamin Lee (Mr Mayagi).

Bloggers' critical commentaries that are logical and backed by facts play a part to better shape our country politically, as we can see from Gayle Goh's (i-speak) recent postings that prompted Mr Bilahari Kausikan, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to respond.

Despite the use of pseudonyms by some bloggers, views that are coherent and sound have been considered by the media, as The Straits Times did for Mr Wang's views in the original report 'Divided views over police checks on blogger' (The Sunday Times, June 18).

Furthermore, blogging with anonymity does not guarantee that the bloggers cannot be traced, as we saw the identification and conviction of three bloggers last year for flouting the Sedition Act.

It is a great misjustice to tar the entire group of netizens as cyber-terrorists just because of the acts of a few, and it is unfortunate for Mr de Souza to make further sweeping statements that bloggers will go all out to disparage him online. Mr de Souza's hasty conclusions on Char's actions and his advocacy for more punishment is very distrubting to us.

It should be noted that he is only being investigated by the police for the alleged cartoons and has not been charged with breaching the Sedition Act.

Everyone has the right to scrutinise the whistle-blowers' actions and see for himself whether his actions are indeed justified. We wonder if Mr de Souza has viewed the four cartoons in question before making a such strong conviction that Char is guilty of sedition and blasphemy.

We would like to express disappointment on the publication of such prejudiced views. We are sure that readers and netizens are right-minded enough to decide for themselves whether to take Mr de Souza's opinions seriously.

And this is the letter we are addressing to, by Mr. Lionel de Souza :

"I refer to the report, 'Divided views over police checks on blogger' (The Sunday Times, June 18).

Personally, I have developed a great distaste and distrust of bloggers who post anonymously or use pseudonyms to disguise their identities. I can understand that sometimes anonymous postings are unavoidable. However, when postings on the Internet are seditious or have a tendency to deliberately wound the religious feelings of any person, the perpetrator of the posting should have the full weight of the law brought to bear on him or her.

It appears to be the norm for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms to blame, insult and rant out against the Government or individuals believing that their postings can better the political process or current events concerning Singapore. Netizens have no legal or constitutional right to condemn the whistle blower who brought blogger Char's blasphemous posting of pictures of Jesus Christ on the Internet to the attention of the police. The conduct of netizens is similar to that of cyber terrorists since netizens have unashamedly condoned the seditious posting of Char, which could have sparked off strong reaction as did the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper in February this year. Fortunately, Char's blasphemous and seditious posting happened in Singapore, a country of tolerance. I am certain that if this letter is published in The Straits Times, netizens and other cyber-terrorists will have a field day posting all kinds of nasty or defamatory remarks against me. They will do so anonymously or using pseudonyms. To these cyber-terrorists I say, 'Be brave and don't hide under the cloak of anonymity or use pseudonyms'.

They should have the conviction to stand behind any statements they make. If they do not have the confidence and passion to put their names beside their statements, I am sure that all right-thinking people cannot take them seriously. It appears to be the current trend for bloggers to hide under the cloak of anonymity to act irresponsibly by ranting and musing about current events. If their ratings and musings do not cross the line of fair comment, they are free to do as they please. However, for bloggers who choose to post seditious and inflammatory comments that could cause anarchy by damaging the fabric of religious and racial harmony; they should be dealt with vigorously under the law. Cases of this nature should not be dealt with by the Community Court where the punishment meted out could be probation and performing a number of hours doing community service. They deserve a more deterrent punishment. I hope that I do not sound 'sub-judice', but I hope that blogger Char receives his just deserts for his blasphemous and seditious posting.

Also See : Word for word match on Mr De Souza's letter when compared aganist an Virginia (US) columnist's article that was posted one month ago.

Part Two : On the Blogger Registration Act

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Power of Legitimacy

Hou, The Students' Notebook

Bloggers are known to have the tendency to question the credibility of the mainstream media, and pride themselves to be the alternative form of media online. There is good reason to be such - We are ranked 140th out of 167th in the 2005 worldwide press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders.

However, there is something that the mainstream press possesses as a trump card that we do not have. And that, is the power of legitimacy. Often, bloggers tend to underestimate the power of it.

"Fellow Comrades! I mean, Bloggers!"

Ironically, the reason why our press is ranked so low, is also the reason why it holds legitimacy. Our mainstream press is backed by the government. In other words whatever it is reported, the people consider its views to be implicitly endorsed by the government.

A simple look in schools can tell the extent of this - it is hardly ever questioned. English/GP classrooms often make use of materials from the mainstream media, and it is not uncommon to hear from teachers that "articles other than from the Straits Times are not accepted". Also to note, is that broadsheets like the Straits Times usually hold a 6 figure circulation.

This is a crucial point, as sheer popularity has no credibility without legitimacy. The power structure of the Singapore blogosphere today is all thanks to the very media it tends to question, as it will be shown in the examples below.

Xiaxue and Mr Brown

The two most prolific bloggers today were the first to appear in the mainstream media. With this, the perception of them being the pioneers and (hence) most popular of blogging is fixed into the minds of Singaporeans forever. It is no doubt why they essentially become the staple of the blogosphere itself, always the ones often representing it on mainstream, and have the ability to make other bloggers popular too. Both being offered space to write in the mainstream press, means that they are also now accorded the power to legitimise other bloggers as well.

Dawn Yeo

The first sign of endorsement came from a report in the New Paper that began all the talk around town. The floodgates opened when two other bloggers, Gabriel Seah actually posted evidence to claim that Dawn Yeo underwent plastic surgery, with XLX later throwing in further weight on the issue. Being both previously featured and legitimised by the mainstream media (former by then Computer Times, and the latter by the XLX-XX conflict in Sunday Times), their voices carried enough weight to justify a follow-up article in the New Paper.

Gayle Goh

Associated with the criticisms of the government and General Paper, she would not be as vocal as she is without the mainstream press giving her the loudhailer. The plus point to her legitimacy is the fact that the government-backed media has actually approved of her objections, a rare occasion that has caught the attention and envy of many. (which is usually ignored, or regulated)

In the graph of Gayle's blog tracker, week 17 is the month of April. Notice the spike 2 weeks later when she was featured by When she began to be featured by the mainstream media for the first time in Week 20, the number simply jumped two-fold . Fears began to surface that bloggers may just decide to hop in the bandwagon and bash the government for the sake of it, but it is likely that this form of legitimacy would be accorded to many by the mainstream media even if it happens.

Seriously, I'll not be surprised if my GP teacher actually put this question in our regular GP Current Affairs Test :

"Name the 17-year-old blogger who spoke aganist the Foriegn Minister of Singapore critically, an example to us all."

And what about STOMP? Between the Straits Times and the Star Bloggers, it is a win-win affair. The Straits Times implicitly gives them the blessings on their views, while the bloggers levarage on their popularity to pull in the crowds. Currently, the site managed to pull in 120,000 visitors (so as they claim), critics claim that it is perhaps a way to "manage the negative Internet" (now more than just that), but what it will really be in future remains to be seen.

But all these revolve around one thing in common. That is social acceptance through legitimacy.