Free speech

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2014 at 5:02 am

Two days ago I was asked whether, in light of all the social media boo-boos, the government should enact laws on social media decorum. My answer was a firm no, because I think Singaporeans can draw the line for themselves between decent and indecent behavior online. Of course, there are the reckless few who spew inflammatory comments; but what gave me hope was that other level-headed Singaporeans would call them out on such behavior and keep them in line. I sincerely thought that the Singapore cyberspace could be self-regulated, and that we didn’t need the government to come in and legislate how we should express ourselves.

Ironically, the next day, one of my letters to TODAY was picked up by The Online Citizen and I woke up to many harsh comments. The letter expressed that we should forgive Anton Casey and that we should keep in mind Mandela’s view of forgiveness – we will never move forward as a country unless we forgive and reconcile. Unfortunately, the headline was terribly misleading and everyone thought I was actually comparing Anton Casey to Nelson Mandela. And suddenly I was being attacked for something far from what I had intended to say.

There were strangers who read the letter properly and came in to defend me against the criticism. But they were dragged down by the haters as well. I felt sorry, but I wasn’t surprised. That’s social media. That’s TOC. I had known that.

And then there were those who truly disagreed with me. They didn’t believe Anton Casey was worth forgiving, and they said I was probably a PAP lackey who published the letter to echo the PAP’s sentiments. They couldn’t be more wrong, because I’m the most pro-Opposition person I know. Some insinuated I was racist and said I was only preaching forgiveness for the “ang moh”.

Trust me, if Anton Casey had been from China or India or Mars, I would have published the same letter.

I felt very detached from all the hate that people were aiming at me. Though I have to admit I was disturbed when people started searching for me on facebook. In the haze of all the terrible comments, there were netizens who realised – from my facebook profile or this blog – that I was sixteen and perhaps undeserving of the harshness. They began to tell other netizens that perhaps they should ease up on the negativity. But it’s okay. If you disagree with my viewpoint, you should express it whether or not I’m sixteen or sixty.

At the end of yesterday, I asked myself the same question on whether the government should enact laws about behavior on social media. I had just been through a pretty thorough flaming on more than one website for a well-intentioned letter. Did I feel misunderstood? Yes. Did I feel frustrated and hurt? Yes. Did I feel that the government should force rules on the netizens to prevent people from getting hurt through the keyboard?…No.

I don’t think the government can legislate manners. I think politeness and respect isn’t a behavior, but an attitude. And it is incredibly hard to change attitudes by passing a law. Besides, no one should decide what people can say and can’t say. The parameters of what is sensitive and insensitive, what is decent and inappropriate, and what is right and wrong are constantly changing.

I’m not saying we should all just sit back and watch when cyberbullying/inflammatory comments happen online. Of course we should take action. Of course we must take action. But a pre-emptive law stating what we netizens can and cannot express? Nah, I don’t think we need it and I don’t think we want it.

One of the more disturbing comments I received yesterday was something along the lines of “forgive anton casey? so I can rape risa tan and ask for forgiveness lor”. I don’t have a guidebook as to how to handle the “keyboard war”. But despite the horrible cyber attacks, I plan to move on with my life. Just like how I believe Singapore should move on from the attacks by Anton Casey. People didn’t seem to understand why I think forgiving is in our best interests. Forgiving lets you spend your energy on something other than blaming and hating and disliking. So, Anton Casey, I forgive you. I forgive you, not because I think what  you did was not-so-bad. I forgive you, not because I think you were sincere in your apology. I forgive you because I want to give you a second chance to prove that you were sincere. But ultimately, I forgive you because it is not worth being angry over you. I forgive you because want to move on from what you did. I’m pretty sure all Singaporeans do.

  1. This comment isn’t really too related to the post, but I thought I’d just like to share my opinions with you on this issue.
    I sometimes feel like people get overly sensitive when it comes to the question of “us” vs “them”, “us” being Singaporeans and “them” being expatriates and the fact that Anton Casey was an “ang moh” expat just made everything ten times worse.
    I completely agree, by the way, with your view that Casey should be forgiven, or at the very least, taken lightly because really, his rude and narrow-minded remarks aren’t deserving of such a strong reaction from Singaporeans, because… what’s the use of getting that offended by something we know isn’t true? I see him as a sort of online troll, to be honest. In all honesty, the strongest emotion I feel is pity for his son.
    He should have to take some form of punishment for his remarks, of course. It would be about the same as posting racial slurs.
    Also, I think the Risa Tan comment was a false comparison. Rape is nowhere near the same as what Casey did. There are too many differences between the two for it to be valid.
    Anyway, those are my not-well-developed thoughts on the issue >.<

  2. I completely agree! It doesn’t speak well of Singapore when the whole country gets so worked up over one man.

  3. The punk is not worth the time and emotion we devoted to him.
    It’s one thing to jump up and down for a bit, to express anger,
    but quite another to hound the fellow the way he was done.

    And which, btw, is being done right now by the govt re a certain
    CNY flower fair. And which was done a while back by, surprise,
    the govt, with regard to some ceilings at a hawker centre.

    So there, we have a bunch of people “showing” the “right” way
    to behave, even as they admonish one on behaving in such a
    vindictive way. Like good children, we do as we’ve been taught.
    I guess you could put it down to poor upbringing.

    Some things though do need firm following up. Unfortunately,
    these are not the things that are being firmly followed up on.

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