theorycast.47 :: “Not My Problem” & other Singaporean citizen dilemmas

theorycast.47 :: "Not My Problem" & other Singaporean citizen dilemmas

Here are my thoughts on the government’s New Media engagement and the qualities of the disaffected Singaporean netizen.

This discussion refers to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent National Day Rally Speech, with particular emphasis on the newly formed “Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society” (AIMS) and their consultation paper on liberalizing Internet regulations in Singapore.

I focus solely on the e-engagement chapter of this paper, exploring how Singaporeans interact via the Internet, the inequalities that are inherent in most online communities, as well as measures that could be taken to encourage constructive societal discussion online.

Since this is an hour long discussion into government-citizen engagement online, I’ve broken up the video below into several chapters, as marked by the dots along the timeline. Simply rollover and click any of the annotated dots to jump to that point:

The Show Notes:

  1. Goal of Video: To discuss, educate and suggest ideas
  2. Internet Filtering: Singapore vs. Rest of the world (ONI Internet Report)
  3. PM Lee Hsien Loong NDR Speech on citizen engagement through New Media
  4. Walter Lim & Ivan Chew on the consultation paper (PDF) from the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media and Society (AIMS)
  5. Chapter 1: E-engagement
    including Straits Times: Govt should engage online for forums
  6. Chapter 2: Political Content
    including Straits Times: Three ways to tackle Section 33
  7. Chapter 3: Protection of Minors
    freeing the Family Access Network, abolishing the 100+ symbolically blocked sites.
  8. Chapter 4: Intermediary Immunity for Online Defamation
    including Straits Times: Spare the Content Hosts
  9. Where do Singaporeans discuss social issues online?

  10. Singapore Government’s REACH Feedback web site
  11. Young PAP forum
    In-depth societal discussions, but might not be for everyone
  12. HardwareZone
    Immensely popular local forum. The Singapore Police Force (SPF) has their virtual “neighborhood police post” there to discuss crime prevention.
  13. Govt’s REACH Facebook Group
    Unlike most forums which allow for anonymity, the technical norm on Facebook encourages full disclosure of user identity, thus discussions, though appear lesser, are more constructive due to accountability. Additionally, as a positive move, both SPF and REACH have created presence in existing online communities, to reach citizens first instead of simply waiting for them feedback on their own.
  14. Inequalities of Online Communities

  15. MrBrown’s publishing of “New media: This government doesn’t get it“.
    Article wasn’t fit for news print, so it was shared online. However, the author solely argues on the grounds of semantics (new media vs web 2.0) and offers little constructive criticism to invoke any pragmatic change. Appear more like a rant, most comments appear biased, jumping on the “Us vs. the Govt” bandwagon. The rest of us who feel otherwise don’t really respond, due to the the relative anonymity and the free-for-all nature of the blog’s comment thread. Note on Internet literacy: What you don’t see is just as important as what lies in plain sight.
  16. George Orwell’s “1984”
    I believe that this “Us vs. Big Brother” mindset is now passe, and stands as nothing more than grassroots-driven propaganda. The problem needs to be addressed as a cultural issue, rather than solely a technological nor legal issue.
  17. Chee Soon Juan as a Singapore Martyr
    Defamation laws and the use of the Internal Security Act has previously been employed by the government too successfully, making a symbolic example of any form of dissent; installing fear and self-censorship among citizens. To a point, this has trained citizens to be cynical, due to the hopeless political circumstance they have felt in the past.
  18. TODAYonline: Reach-ing Out to Gen Y.
    Even though Singapore’s political space appears to be liberalizing both online and offline, the current generation will have a difficult time transitioning into constructive dialogue with the government. Where the government asks students on their thoughts, the general line would be “It doesn’t concern me”. From fear, to disaffected, this current generation now refuses to partake in the socio-political process. In other words, “fear” becomes the reflex / excuse for being apolitical.
  19. Jakob Nielsen’s Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute
    Further exploration into how online participation doesn’t guarantee equal participation, and could lead to potential problems if users aren’t encouraged to contribute.
  20. Lessons on Media Literacy: Panic in 1938 and 2008

  21. South Korea’s Infodemics: 50,000 protester against U.S. beef import
    PM Lee’s example of how citizens have to be able to be discerning with information online. Large collective groups aren’t impervious to misinformation.
  22. H.G. Well’s “The War of the Worlds” 1938 Radio Broadcast
    While the 1938 radio broadcast of “aliens invading Earth” caused panic amongst American listeners, those who remained calm knew to check with various sources as to check authenticity of the news. It was actually nothing more than a highly realistic radio screenplay. The recent South Korean beef import protest shows us how history repeats itself, and that we are no wiser even when our communication technology gets more complex. Media literacy is as vital as ever.
  23. The yellow, violent mob culture of a Chinese BBS
    An extreme example of how ethics isn’t inherent in situations involving collective intelligence. In other words, smartmobs can still exhibit negative mob-like behavior. In China, mobs from various online forums have been known to collectively cyberbully targeted individuals. Typically, members would contribute bits of information they’ve gathered of a particular subject, thereby putting together a fairly complete dossier of their target’s personal details. Often, the attacks would often be shameful to these individuals. While I have heard of similar cases in Japan, I’ve yet to see any clear case of this happening in Singapore.
  24. Types of Collective Intelligence
    Collective Intelligence might have helped build Wikipedia, but it still need a solid structure to guide behavior; it doesn’t simply mean free-for-all.
  25. Suggestions: Improving Civil Engagement Online

  26. Lawrence Lessig’s CODE: The Pathetic Dot model
    A way to understand how user behavior is regulated might be to refer to Lessig’s Pathetic Dot Model. In this model, we can see how the four forces include: Law, Market, Architecture, Norms. In the Singapore context, the govt is downplaying the need for legal restraints on Internet use, while adjusting economic (market) and technological use (architecture) to engage the public freely. I feel that the greatest challenge now that of the cultural norm, where majority of citizens are not accustomed to engaging the government openly.
  27. Socio-technological approach to encouraging engagement
    While social norms is more as a result of circumstance, Internet use can be modified by design (architecture) to promote ideal behavior for various communities. Such ideas are already apparent in various popular online communities.
    – User Reputation (e.g. Yahoo! Answers, eBay)
    – Comment filtering by the users (e.g. Digg, Slashdot)
    – Paid crowdsourcing for public policy ideas (e.g. Innocentive)
    – Pro-Am approach to citizen journalism (e.g. Assignment Zero)

I hope this has been useful to you. Let me know your criticisms and suggestions in the comments. Thanks!

8 thoughts on “theorycast.47 :: “Not My Problem” & other Singaporean citizen dilemmas

  1. Hi Kevin
    in your video suggests that people should should not be so angry and just give the govt a chance… the problem is that the general public has a lot of baggage and hangups about engaging with the govt. im not saying that these baggages are valid. But they are real. I remember the reaction when Mr Brown had his article removed from the Today newspaper.
    Problem is that the Govt does control every other aspects of traditional media, be it print, radio television etc… This opening up in cyber space can look as if it has no other choice. its like they have come to the understanding that ‘we can really control it, so we will try and manage it. If the govt really wants to engage its citizens, then why isn’t it opening up other forms of media as well?

    Anyways thanks for your efforts.

    Just my two cents.

  2. Jermyn, thanks for your points, especially the one about political baggage experienced by citizens. It’s true.

    The reason why I produced this video though, is because of my frustration in seeing one-sided arguments on the issue of Internet regulation. It’s essential for netizens like mrbrown and The Bloggers 13 to offer the perspective of having the “hands-off” rather than “light-touch” approach, as alternative competing points of views. However, I’m considering what’s likely to happen if too much liberalization is given.

    I’m actually looking for solutions that allow for a balance between political freedom of speech and citizen-level protection. I’ve seen how a hands-off approach to Internet regulation lead to various levels of new social dilemmas because of how a large collective of netizens is still susceptible to mob-like behavior. Not every crowd will be able to govern themselves, as with almost every open system, from Wikipedia to blogosphere, there’s an inherent power structure in place.

    Ethical failures of collective netizendry have been experienced as the “mad cow” infodemics in South Korea, as well as the violent lynch mob culture experienced in China as well as Japan as one example. Singapore has yet to experience any of these phenomena in the fullest extent, partly as a side effect of the self-censorship inspired by the government.

    I’m all for liberalization of Internet media in Singapore, so long as users remember that “online participation” does not automatically mean “equality in expression”. There will always be inherent power laws at play (e.g. louder, media savvier voices), so we need laws that can still protect netizens from each other should the need arise.

    On your other point about mainstream media, user presence is subtly happening.
    Just compare our mass media’s near history… the online presence of these news media has plenty of spaces featuring users and their opinions. It’s only a matter of time when users will have more presence in these traditional media mostly because it is economically necessary (competition b/w mainstream and alternative media), driven mostly by how the Coasean floor (see Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody”) for media production has drop enough that citizen can express themselves in an affordable and wide-ranging fashion.

    two systems

    For now it has been acknowledged that we have two media regulation system, one for mainstream media and another for online media (see Cherian George’s “One Country, Two Systems”). While our neighboring countries have universally harsher regulations for all media spaces, we are taking a step forward by recognizing that “one size doesn’t fit all”. I think most users are misinterpreting that it’s a “halfway” approach, and simply want the government to swing all the way. This is why I’m concerned many don’t get the subtle difference and are hopping on the bandwagon because it’s their only better alternative.

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