Happy December everybody! We're coming to the end of 2011! I love December! Coz of the cool weather, the Christmas lightings at Orchard, the Christmas trees everywhere, the log cakes and fascinating christmas foodstuff, the joyous, festive, holiday mood of everyone, and basically, the whole thing! So I hope that everyone would have a great holiday and remember to finish your holiday homework, preferably before Christmas so that you can enjoy that day in peace!
Anyway, today I read the article below in the Straits Times and it struck me how there has been a rising number of cases where people make some offensive remarks online and got into trouble when they went viral. May I remind everyone that there is no such thing as private conversations online! What you put out there in your profile page on facebook or twitter is accessible to everyone! Even if you have some privacy settings you need to make that assumption because you never know when some guy may hack into your account and retrieve your private stuff. So just be careful and be responsible for whatever you say online. (Unless you want to become famous - for the wrong reason -_-! )
Straits Times (2 Dec 2011) - Hate speech is not free speech
AS INVESTIGATIONS continue into postings on the Internet that have offended racial and religious sentiments, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Yaacob Ibrahim has reiterated the need for a code of conduct to guide proper online behaviour in Singapore. He is right. Such a code to govern online opinions and discussions, particularly on racially or religiously sensitive issues, is necessary to plug the gap between two existing safeguards.
The first safeguard is the sanction of the law, such as through provisions in the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and Sedition Act. The problem is that not every offensive posting might be grave enough to attract legal penalties, but could still be serious enough to harm, however imperceptibly, the climate of trust among the races and religions. This problem exists quite apart from the practical issue of having to police the anonymous wilderness that is the Internet. State resources would also be stretched thin by the demands made on them. The second safeguard is public opinion and action by the online community itself. Public opprobrium or reproach is a largely self-regulating way of keeping online behaviour within civilised bounds. Indeed, as Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, noted, those who spoke out against the offensive postings being investigated included non-Muslim voices. This is a gratifying comment on the state of racial relations here. The calm and rational response of Malay-Muslim Singaporeans also contributed to a unifying climate of public opinion.
Unfortunately, even public censure might not always be sufficient because it is not a deterrent, and usually comes only after an offence has been committed and the harm done. If misguided individuals or groups with a hidden agenda keep testing the system to see what they can get away with, a day might come when all the public goodwill here might not be able to prevent a backlash from occurring and damaging race relations. This is where the code will be of value. It will need to be more assertive than public opinion and lay down markers of acceptable discussion. Those who fail to heed these will then open themselves to the full impact of laws available to the authorities. The hope, of course, is that the code will be effective enough to make recourse to the law unnecessary. This fine balance - between lightness of touch and effectiveness of results - is not easy to achieve. But it must be given a try. Even as details of the code are awaited, it bears keeping in mind that many nations, including in the West, have tough anti-hate mechanisms. Here, as there, freedom of speech does not extend to hate speech. The Internet and its vastness should not be an exception to that iron rule.