One less thing for kids to blog about…

From the Straits Times (thanks to Mr Wang) and in the wake of a series of sedition charges, here’s a recent article (partial) showing how Singapore has yet to come to grasp with blogging as just another medium. Since blogging is a fairly new thing to the rest of Singapore, we are witnessing traditional systems adapt to it, other rather, adapting it to fit the system. Wondering if there will ever be a mutual change…

Straits Times, Sept 27, 2005
Schools act against students for ‘flaming’ teachers on blogs
By Sandra Davie and Liaw Wy-Cin

FREE speech may be the buzzword on the Internet – but libel is unacceptable everywhere.

The message has been sent out loud and clear, with five junior college students being punished for posting offensive remarks about two teachers and a vice-principal online. The students, all girls, were made to remove the remarks from their Internet diaries, or blogs, and suspended for three days last month. Their parents were also informed.

The case is not an isolated one. Of the 31 secondary schools and junior colleges contacted, 18 said they were seeing more such incidents as the number of bloggers surges. Seven secondary schools and two JCs have asked bloggers who criticise or insult their teachers online – ‘flaming’ in Internet jargon – to remove the offending remarks. One such remark referred to a secondary school teacher as a ‘prude’ for disciplining a student for wearing a too-short skirt. ‘Frustrated old spinster. Can’t stand to see attractive girls,’ the blog read.

Tanglin Secondary science and PE teacher Tham Kin Loong said: ‘I’ve had vulgarities hurled against me, my parents and my whole family in some students’ blogs.’

The 33-year-old added: ‘Most of them do not realise the legal implications of what they are writing in such a public domain.’

If teachers wish to prosecute, they may have legal grounds to do so.

Singapore Teachers’ Union general secretary Swithun Lowe said the union is ready to back any teacher who wants to take legal action. It has offered legal help to a few members, but they did ‘not want to affect the prospects of their young students’.

Lawyers say students can be sued for defamation, even if a teacher is not named. ‘As long as someone is able to identify the teacher, and it is an untrue statement that affects his reputation or livelihood, then the student is liable,’ said Ms Doris Chia of Harry Elias and Partners.

An injunction can be taken to get the student to remove the blog and issue an apology, she added.

But none of the schools contacted by The Straits Times has banned blogging. Rather, many English and General Paper teachers encourage it to improve students’ language and writing skills.

First, the Internet was “bad” because it promoted porn and whatnot, now blogging is “bad” because it promoted racial discrimination and offensive school kids. What’s next?

It seems obvious that the Internet “favor” the American way of life, which promotes freedom of speech and the open marketplace of ideas. As for Singapore, it looks like while the government seeks to promote different views for the survival of our national future, citizens will have to be more careful with what they say, especially online since it is a “policed” domain in as well. In other word, please don’t think too differently. Open criticisms have started to become a national past-time & crime.

If you’re wondering what’s with the image on the right, Reuters UK published their story as Singapore Schools Punish Cheeky Student Bloggers… oh how cute. Don’t be so cheeky next time har!

UPDATE: OK, I’ve had it with blogs being the all-time legal scapegoat in Singapore. Here are some constructive thoughts… instead of punishing students and telling them what’s wrong, tell them the RIGHT way to do it. We all have our memories of quirky teachers and principals, so it’s a pretty universal thing. Why not teach them to write their views in a more light hearted context as part of their English class… in fact teach them the safer way to blog (e.g. learn to write fairly). Come on Singapore, I’m sick of the dollars and cents mentality that’s like a disease back home… put some sense into it and see that we need to move on, not hold back. You got to give people a way out that’s good for you and good for them!

8 thoughts on “One less thing for kids to blog about…

  1. Kevin, I totally agree with you that schools should teach students to write in more responsible ways rather than tell them “Do not blog”. I’ve just got one very very small disagreement about the “Singapore being dollars and cents” statement : ) Let’s not judge Singapore based on the action of one school, or a few for that matter. Or maybe I’m an eternal optimist?

  2. I’m so sadden that I had to raise the dollar and cents statement; given the current events, that’s really what I see Singapore as mostly about. One just has to compare how such matters are dealt with in other countries to see the difference. A 5min survey showed that simply by googling the keywords “student blogger libel“, you’ll see all the results referring only to Singapore.

    All I see are threats of jail, fine and other forms of deterrence. I only wish for the nation’s time and money to be invested in constructive initiatives (e.g. educating bloggers, not blogging competitions) rather than spent on the punishments for irregularity committed. As Agagooga commented on Mr Wang’s blog, “Yay, more thoughtcrime! Criticism is bad. Criticism is evil. We cannot say anything bad.” On Singapore’s legal legacy and these student bloggers, I feel as if someone’s used a bazooka to kill an ant.

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  4. I share the same sentiments about the recent persecution of bloggers, but it just highlights a fundamental problem in Singapore – “Its ok to speak freely, as long as you stay within the so-called OB markers”.

    That’s fine, except that these markers aren’t defined properly and sole purpose is to give people an impression that there’s free speech in this country. It’ll be a while before things start to change.

  5. I agree about the students need to be taught how to blog more fairly and such. I know that some students blog for the sake of blogging, as they catch on to this as something that everyone does and is a trendy thing to them, and hence will pull out anything that will gain them readership, usually with a negative effect that is done unintentionally.

    Leashing a vicious dog will only stop it from biting outside the leash reach; teaching it not to bite will be more effective in solving the problem once and for all.

  6. Hey, I’m all in agreement with what’s being discussed here. ­čÖé
    Kevin — also agree that the “google” side of things also seem to indicate that Singapore is about the $$$. But that’s where I think the “government” is being blamed unfairly, at least for this particular incident about the student blog issue. If I have to point a finger, it would be at those specific teachers or educators (not the government) who choose to take a myopic view of blogs (or any new technology) and focus on the adverse side of things. It’s like saying “the Internet only has porn; don’t use it”. These few do not represent the government. Also, I’d point a finger at the local media for only showing such negative news. But that’s life — scandals sell better.

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