Monday, October 01, 2012

The Challenge of the New Age Internet Politics

It is nothing "new" about this New Age Internet Politics but it is just that Singapore, in spite of the high internet connectivity, is pretty slow in riding on the waves and tide of the Internet Politics.

Just across the causeway, Malaysia has been the beneficiary of this new wave of internet politics that had given Malaysian political landscape an irreversible shake up since GE 2008. Internet politics has also exerted great influence all over Middle East, effected even regime changes.

Yes, this is a world trend that cannot be ignored, not even in "Paradize Singapore". We have seen the tremendous impact of the New Age Internet Politics in play whereby policy discourse has been played up and dominated by internet chatters, blogs and citizen reporting websites like TOC. PAP has suddenly felt so hopeless in dominating public discourse on any policy due to the new empowerment of opinion making and access to shared views by individuals via internet access.

Many people would have thought that such development will only benefit the opposition movement. However, I think this New Age of Internet Politics is a double edged sword for both the ruling and opposition parties. For any small mistakes you made, it will be put on focus under the internet microscope to be examined and exaggerated.

I, for one, is one of the earliest victim of internet politics. Most people would recall that I have resigned from WP due to a mistake I made in my internet engagement back in 2006 right after the general elections. It is not really a mistake of death even politically, but it was blown up as the newspaper just picked it up.

Thereafter, WP has adopted a more stringent Code of Conduct for its CEC members and these were subtly applied to other members as well. No CEC members will use their real names in internet engagement, implicitly implied that anonymity is encouraged. Even for personal blogs, CEC members are discouraged to put up policy views as well.

Subsequently, Chia Tilik resigned from WP as well, mostly due to his disagreement on such regimental implementation Code of Conduct.

Many would think that such Code of Conduct would be the best approach towards the rising influence of internet politics. I beg to differ. It will only prevent temporary embarrassment from potential mistakes made by key individuals in any political parties but the tradeoff is the deprivation of the necessary opportunities for these future leaders or MPs of the country to learn how to cope and deal with this new age political trends.

The recent fumble of MP Pritam Singh over the "conversation" with Andrew Loh, a veteran internet social-political activist, is a very good case to look at. The mistake Pritam had made, in insinuating that all other kinds of activism (including interne activism) is less important than partisan political ground work, is a common mistake most people in partisan politics (including me) would make at any point of our political life time. I have to admit that I used to think that way too (many years ago) but after experiencing lively engagement on the internet, I realize that internet activism itself is an important movement to make democratic development happens as well. Partisan politics alone, is just not enough to initiate democratic changes. We will need a holistic approach with people from all aspects of activism, from NGOs to internet activists to make the political awakening happened back in GE2011.

Internet politics would also mean that politicians will have to be very careful on what they post on their very own blogs, FBs or simply say anything to the Main Stream Media. We have seen how, politicians or MPs from both ruling and opposition parties, being mocked at when they made a mistake. Photos, screen shots or even important document will be posted or even emailed to the press to show evidence of discrepancies or question their integrity.

Sometimes, it is not even about discrepancies or integrity, but just purely differences in opinions that would trigger the wrath of public opinion instantaneously. There are many instances and the latest saga involved Lawrence Wong's lament on "politicising" of National Conversation and personal attacks happening in the internet sphere.

Information used to travel at slower pace in the last century but not for now. Information basically travels in the flick of the fingers on the keyboards.

Most people who believe in the healthy democratic development for Singapore would have jumped in joy with such "Freedom" brought by this wonderful technology called internet. However ironically, such development in internet politics will result in the biggest setback for anybody who are pushing for change for more Freedom of Speech and expressions.

The protection of anonymity which gives most people the false sense of security is slowly breeding irresponsible speech and expression. I am not against anonymity in cyberspace because I have also grown out of anonymity from my earlier days of internet activism. However, such anonymity is slowly eroding the moral high ground of the fight for more Freedom of Speech and expression, the very cause that most of us in the democratic movement take it as our core values.

Not only the ruling party PAP MPs and ministers are suffering from unnecessary personal attacks from people under the cloak of anonymity but opposition members like me are also suffering from such attacks, not only from PAP people (supporters) but also from other opposition parties people (supporters). In fact I would say that PAP people have evolved and toned down in their internet attacks on their opponents but opposition supporters or IBs are getting more aggressive nowadays.

If these anonymous handlers in the cyberspace would only comment on their differences in views vs others, that's perfectly fine. But when they start to use aggressive words or even spread lies against their opponents, then they would have crossed the line of responsible freedom of speech and expression.

They must realize that they are not doing any good to the overall democratic movement by such misbehavior. They are giving the exact bullets that the ruling party needs to make their case in controlling or even curbing our freedom of speech and expression.

Someone once told me this and I agree with him totally : For those who do not treasure but abuse their freedom of speech and expression, they don't deserve Freedom in the first place.

Freedom comes with responsible. If sensible people from the democratic movement do not stand up against such abuses of freedom of speech and expression, we may just be letting those irresponsible abuses derail our fight for our rights altogether. We do not need a formal "Code of Conduct" but we will have to help to shape our own turfs in this New Age Internet Politics.

In my view, putting "Code of Conduct" to ban partisan members from using their own identity while implicitly encouraging anonymity in the cyberspace may yield undesirable results. It is alright for people to make mistakes but at the same time have the opportunities to learn and grow from their own mistakes. I would say that encouraging partisan members to use their own identities would contribute to a more healthy development in this New Age of Internet Politics. It would encourage responsible use of this new found freedom of expression provided by technology and thus, cultivate a healthy social norms for all Singaporeans using internet as a means of social-political engagement. What we need more is not just mindless attacks on government policies or individuals (from both ruling or opposition parties). What we need is more responsible people using the internet platform for more fruitful exchange of ideas and views.

The Challenge of maintaining a healthy development of internet politics and thus, National political engagement lies with everyone of us, including both political party members as well as normal citizens. We just cannot allow a few irresponsible agent provocateurs to terrorize the whole cyberspace while destroying our path towards Freedom of Expression as well as democratic development for Singapore.

Goh Meng Seng


Anonymous said...

Personally, I feel that 'Needing an Identity' in order to have Freedom of Speech is MISSING THE POINT.

Creating an identity, especially relating to the profession or age or status, already sets up a preconception of what that person is like. It either gives more weight to what that person is saying or it can go the other way.

Can we honestly say that we are not sway by WHO is WHO?

If the objective is 'How to make Singapore a Better Place', I believe (although some would say that I am naive) that All Singaporeans meant WELL and so will put up good suggestions. So, why can't a speaker speak as a SINGAPOREAN, instead of with a title? The focus would then be on the ISSUE, instead of WHO has said WHAT.

Admin said...

I am not against Anonymity but it must come with responsible speech.

I am not asking everyone to walk out of Anonymous cloak, but I feel that for those opinion leaders or political players, they should use their own identity.

In the short run, they may find it awkward and they will have to adjust and practice to speak with a clear mind, understanding that what he is saying on the internet will reach out to people with very diverse background. This will train a politician or political players' sensitivity in making speeches, responsible speeches.

Goh Meng Seng

Admin said...

To add to my previous comment, beside practicing responsible speech with his real identity, political players should shape the direction for healthy development of responsible Freedom of Speech and Expression on the internet.

They should uphold this value very dearly and if it needs to be, speak up against such acts of irresponsible speech.

Goh Meng Seng