Alert: PAP moves to counter criticism in cyberspace… anonymously

PAP moves to counter criticism of party, Govt in cyberspace It’s a shameful day for Singapore in light of the international blogosphere. According to the Straits Times (an intentional leak?), the People’s Action Party (PAP) has members going into Internet forums and blogs to rebut anti-establishment views and to put up postings anonymously. You can read the entire news report from MrBrown’s blog or via this newsprint photo (on left).

On Anonymity vs. Transparency
I’ve always encouraged the idea of the government conversing with their grassroots communities online. However, the manner in which this operation is being conducted (especially anonymously) not only damages their credibility, but puts patriotic netizens like ourselves in a negative light. Anonymity has its uses, as it typically works for those who are encumbered by way of facing personal danger in light of revealing his/her identity. As such, anonymity can be used for noble or malicious intent. In the case of a political party, anonymity could have an adverse effect for an established organization, where the lack of transparency would diminish public trust. Government officials ought to be credible by way of authority, thus it is puzzling why they would rather remove all accountability for their actions online.

On the Act of Astroturfing
Due to the open nature of social media such as blogs, wikis and forums, social engineering exploits such as astroturfing have been popular. While the government’s lack of transparency could be seen as being ignorant of online ethics / etiquette, the act of astroturfing represents a more sever act of irresponsibility. Briefly citing Astroturfing on Wikipedia:

In politics and advertising, the term astroturfing describes formal public relations (PR) campaigns that seek to create the impression of being a spontaneous, grassroots behavior. Hence the reference to the “AstroTurf” (artificial grass) is a metaphor to indicate “fake grassroots” support.

The goal of such campaign is to disguise the agenda of a client as an independent public reaction to some political entity —a politician, political group, product, service, event. Astroturfers attempt to orchestrate the actions of apparently diverse and geographically distributed individuals, by both overt (“outreach,” “awareness,” etc.) and covert (disinformation) means. Astroturfing may be undertaken by anything from an individual pushing their own personal agenda through to highly organised professional groups with financial backing from large corporations.

When the government as an organization fails to understand how they should engage social spaces such as blogs and forums, they do more than hurt themselves, but the well-being of thriving online communities that consist their very own citizens (i.e. the loss of social capital).

Judging from what I’ve seen in the local media (including newspapers, blogtv.sg, government policies), Singaporean authorities (as well as pseudo blog experts) have an arduous journey ahead of them in learning how to grapple with this new media. It appears that they find it easy to conjure up incredible jargon such as “Web 3.0“, “Killer Apps”, “New Media Capabilities Group”, but really… perhaps all our government needs to do is to stop blowing their own horns and simply listen to their people.

The blogosphere’s reacted since yesterday’s news, as seen here…

Update 1: For a starting definition of Social Media, take a look at Dion Hinchcliffe’s article entitled “Social Media Goes Mainstream“, which comes with a neat infogram depicting the social media ecology. For his third point, he also notes that honesty and transparency are core values. Spin and attempting to control, manipulate, or even spam the conversation are thoroughly discouraged. Social media is an often painfully candid forum and traditional organizations — which aren’t part of the conversation other than through their people — will often have a hard time adjusting to this.

Update 2: Woah, and this happened not too long ago…

  • http://eok.net Benjamin Koe

    Maybe this “leak” by the PAP to ST was a means to test the waters of the blogosphere, wanting to take a look at the response before either going ahead with it or saying it’s a fake leak. But say it was true…would they get away with it? Or would they go the way of Walmart?

    Maybe the “wisdom of the crowd” nature of the blogosphere will just begin to ignore and filter out the astroturfing. If someone already blew the whistle yesterday, they surely can do it again as more moves are made.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Benjamin: Mr Wang first highlighted how it could be an intentional leak since anonymous sources were used in the ST article. Furthermore, this was a relatively political piece, which usually wouldn’t dare see the light of day unless it was safely sanctioned. It would be neat that the government conducts grand social experiments as you mentioned, but I don’t think it’s something they wouldn’t be capable of doing at all. In fact, it fits in line with how they’ve always viewed the blogosphere… with little respect and haphazard engagement in this new territory. You got it right that the wisdom of the crowds is alive and well on this, as seen in the local blogosphere’s quick response to the issue.

    Elia: Keeping a good eye eh? Thanks for summarizing and updating your awesome post on this issue. I bet there’ll be more of such episodes. Staying tuned!

  • nuMentally

    If the source is accurate, then PAP is taking responsibility for all pro-government posting/comment. Why worry, the government will take care of everything…
    Look… if we keep worrying about pro-government posting from anonymous sources, we are assuming there are people out there who want to defend the government but afraid of being found out. And we all know they are rarer than a Black NHL player.

    Don’t allow anonymous posting to solve the problem.

  • nuMentally

    nuMentally,

    Disagree, By rebutting pro-PAP comments, we are counter-balancing their influence on the Internet. We are keeping them from turning cyberspace into another propaganda machine like the ST.

    Your comment is cleverly misleading actually.

  • nuMentally

    Hence, we can safely assume that all pro-government postings, anonymously posted or not, are propaganda regardless of whether they are actual propaganda or not, which then can be ignored or stored in the recycled bin for future use in parodies. There, problem solved.

  • somebody

    nuMentally,

    Don’t have to be so worked up and extreme lah. Pro-government stuff already plentiful on MSM. Still need air-time here meh? People also got brains on mah, parody or not, people will access.

    In fact, I won’t even bother with “parodies” done by copycat pseudo-elite-intellectuals who think they can also talk cock or mee siam. Those are the real potentially seditious ones. Go monitor those lah.

  • nuMentally

    Somebody,
    “Pro-government stuff already plentiful on MSM.”
    I’m not too familiar with MSM but ok. However, are they posted anonymously? That is the concern here.

    Speaking of mee siam? Anyone interested in going Bostel Hotel tonight for clams? Reply before 8pm EST.

  • somebody

    MSM – Mainstream Media

  • http://ramblingliblogarian.blogspot.com Ivan Chew

    Anonymity tends to hurt more than help, whatever the cause. I think there’s a certain expectation about “cyber-etiquette”, where expression is linked to “responsibility” and “credibility”. To put it bluntly, anonymous comments tends to imply “cowardice”, which even if it isn’t true, will serve as an excuse for detractors to go off tangent. (I wonder if I’m making sense).

  • anonymous

    eat full got nothing better to do. what should have been taken at face value is now ‘intellectualized’ because the over glorified cells must validate its worth and value among peers.

    they have to go anonymous for the same reasons why gayle decided on anonymity. i know of no one who can take humiliation in the face especially public servants.

    so depending, the message may indeed be more important than the messengers.

  • nuMentally

    I can think of some quotes from the movie “V for Vendetta”
    like this one: “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea… and ideas are bulletproof.” and of course this one: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

    Does this propaganda issue remind you of any other quotes from the movie?

  • http://gadgit.blogspot.com/ ed

    One cannot deny the party in power the right to rebut those opposed to their perspectives. Tis better than an attempts to ban free and intelligent speech on the basis that one is not bothered to offer a rebuttal.

  • http://whysgentrepreneurssuck.com whysgentrepreneurssuck

    I don’t know what’s going on in PAP’s minds. They must really be afraid of this whole Web 2.0/3.0 citizen journalism/blogging phenomenon. I can’t think of a better way to quell all the negative voices by starting a ‘corporate-blog’ of sorts, but yet with a grassroots feel to it. It would be awesome to see blog entries from our leaders, and read their own words, not those which have been filtered by their PR folks. I mean, what better way to connect to this diaspora of netizens that is us? If they’re so concerned about identities, they could take on pseudo names.

    Come on PAP! It’s time to get on the bandwagon and show us what you’re made of. Don’t let nameless minions do your bidding! That’s not why we’re paying you so much more salary for.