Lianhe Zaobao, Saturday 20 Sept 2008
Mr Brown (Blogger Lee Kin Mun)’s hilarious “Bak Chor Mee” blog post shot to fame two years ago just before the General Elections. This incident made Chinese paper readers who usually do not surf the internet start to notice the presence of new media.
Since PM Lee Hsien Loong announced the intention to liberalise the internet and new media hemisphere in the National Day Rally, the government-commissioned new media working group has also expressed in their report that the government should pay more attention to the voices of web users. In addition, they also recommended that the government should examine how to better use the new media communication channel to connect with web users.
The newspapers readers who do not participate in online forums may have the impression that web users have a uniform voice, just like the government uses a uniform approach to propagate its ideologies and policies. Some readers are only aware of the existence of Mr Brown or assume that most bloggers are similar to him.
On the contrary, the blogosphere and mainstream society are the same. They are a common space formed by people with varied viewpoints, inclinations, parties, objectives and temperaments.
If newspaper readers receive emails occasionally from their friends which includes hyperlinks to certain blogs, short videos or critiques that claim to shed the light on certain issues or uncover the wrongdoings of certain political figures, please do not believe them readily, or assume all web users think the same way. Other web users may also have strong opposing opinions, and thus various conspiracy theories and personal attacks abound.
Local English current affairs website “theonlinecitizen.com” is a recent example. This blog was set up after the last General Elections and covers news, interest topics, current affairs comics, columns and even translates part of the articles to mandarin to enlarge its reader base. It offers an alternative view to politics and mainstream media reports and is one of the top local websites of its kind.
However, this week someone resurfaced the conspiracy theories that were the hot topic in february earlier this year in the forum sammyboy.com. The user claimed that the persons in charge of “theonlinecitizen.com” are secretly put in place by PAP to act as internet spies. Allegedly, they offer alternative opinions on the surface, but in reality do not attack the key government blog sites.
The writer went on to claim that mainstream media were listening to instructions from ‘above’ to support “theonlinecitizen.com” and help it to gain popularity and therefore cause the genuine anti-government blogs to lose favour with web users.
These writers also pointed out that the person behind “theonlinecitizen.com” , Andrew Loh had switched allegiance from the PAP to WP and now no longer with WP. The other founder, Choo Zhengxi (NUS Law Faculty undergraduate) had previously worked as the speech writer for the West Coast GRC nominee He Yu Chu, drawing a salary of $500 for five consecutive months. Last but not least, one of the editors of “theonlinecitizen.com”, Liu Chuan Zhi (SMU Political Science undergraduate) is a member of Young PAP and have participated in various grassroots activites and maintains the same blog with the Foreign Affairs Minister.
The writers also highlighted that since the last elections, PAP has established a new media working group headed by the education minister and one of its objectives is to establish 20 communications representatives to participate in online forums and blogs to deflect and object to anti-government messages. It’s claimed that “theonlinecitizen.com” is one of its products.
This sounds like an exciting scene right out of the popular Hong Kong movie “Infernal Affairs”. When interviewed yesterday, the founders of “theonlinecitizen.com” denied that they were a propagation tool set up by PAP. Andrew Loh mentioned that they always used their real names in these activities and had nothing to hide, in contrast to the forum writers who hide behind anonymity.
This is just one of the methods on the internet to ‘dish dirt’ on and slander others. The real truth is of no interest to non web users. However, such online furore has brought to question the issue of whether web space can tolerate moderate, non-extremist opinions.
People who are anti-government likes to congregate in web forums, because they feel that mainstream media does not give them an opportunity to air their views. Hence, they are intolerant of any pro-government voices in such forums. Political blogs and forum topics are frequently critical towards policies, the government and PAP. On top of this, some web users feel that moderate viewpoints have no ‘marketability’ and the arguments that draw the most attention are the most harsh and extremist arguments. Thus, sites like “theonlinecitizen.com” which are moderate and non-confrontational are thus labelled as pro-government.
Highly anti-government web users not only gauge blogs by such benchmarks, they also ask the same of opposition parties. The Workers Party, who successfully placed two members in Parliament, is widely acknowledged as the most successful opposition party, but in the internet world, it is slammed by a small group of web users. They claim that giving WP a vote is equivalent to giving PAP a vote.
During the last elections, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen gave the Workers’ Party a degoratory nickname – ”Wayang Party” (Wayang Kulit Party) which prompted blogger Fang Zhi Yuan to set up a blog named wayangparty.wordpress.com to criticise WP, along with all the other Singaporean opposition parties for doing nothing except putting up a ”wayang’ or ’show’ for Singapore citizens to watch. Fang felt that these opposition parties do not dare to seek redress for the citizens or speak out against the PAP. They are merely there to help PAP validate their claim that Singapore parliament is not a one party monopoly, thereby legitimatizing their authoritarian rule.
However, when some bloggers who blog on current affairs were interviewed, they opined that they will not be demoralised by the small group of extremist views and do not agree that fierce online arguments showed that local web users were immature.
National Solidarity Party leader Mr Goh Meng Seng （singaporealternatives.blogspot.com） said “Extremist viewpoints may draw the attention of people and garner the support of other extremists, but most web users will still want to hear balanced, moderate, mature arguments. This is also the reason why the SDP website is rapidly losing its readers.”
Mr Goh was thrust into the web forums arguments more than one year ago and was forced to leave the “Worker’s Party”, but he does not feel that such extremists online arguments will hinder the general development and maturity of web forum users. “If the web only allowed one form of viewpoint, then it would be no different from communism”.
Mr Zhu has adopted a calm attitude towards the personal attacks against him on online forums. “When someone criticises my opinions of current affairs, I will treat their opinions seriously and debate with him actively. However, I will not be bothered if they launch personal attacks.”
Original Chinese article:
报纸读者如果偶尔收到朋友传来的电邮，电邮上贴上某某网民的 播客、短片或评论，披露某某事件的“真相”或揭发某某政治人物的“恶行”，可别太快信以为真，或以为所有网民都这么想。因为其他网民也许会有很强烈的相反 意见，于是种种被指为阴谋论的谣言和人身攻击，也开始流传。
反政府的人喜欢聚集在网络论坛，因为他们认为主流媒体没有容 下他们的空间。他们于是无法容忍网络空间里有非反政府的言论。政治博客和论坛上的言论倾向批评政策、政府和行动党，少数网民则认为温和的评论没有市场，批 评越尖锐越刺耳，才越能引起共鸣，并吸引眼球。而像“网络公民”这类尝试以较理性、四平八稳的写法呈献观点的博客，则容易被扣上“捧政府”的帽子。
黄永宏在上一次大选时称工人党（Workers’ Party）为“Wayang Party”（皮影戏党），批评该党光说不练。网民方志远也套用这个词，设立了wayangparty.wordpress.com，批评工人党以及所有新加坡民主党以外的反对党，都只是在跟执政党一起做戏给人民看。他认为反对党都不敢为民请愿，没有实质的反对效用，反而让行动党可以理所当然地说“你看，国会里有反对党，我们不是一党独大”。