Social networking sites are keeping half the youths in Singapore glued to the Internet for three hours each day. …(Some 800 Singaporeans between the ages of 15 and 34 took part in the survey.)
One in five have dated a stranger they met through a social networking site, and one in 10 have been sexually harassed on such sites.”
When I used to teach CSE, I would usually pose this question to the girls “How many of you have ever been out with someone you didn’t know, or only knew very little about?”
About 80% of the class would raise their hands (I taught 14 – 17 year olds mainly; this survey includes respondents up to 34yrs old)
I would ask, how many of them actually ever thought about their safety or were ever worried about their safety. Most ofthem raised up their hands, once again.
Then I’ll ask, so what can we do to keep ourselves safe?
And here’s the very thing. Most of them said “Don’t go out with strangers”
That’s the advice that we’re usually taught, and continue to teach. Very effective advice, but seriously, very impractical in todays world. What tends to happen, is that teens HIDE from their parents, these outings with strangers, and INCREASE the danger they face.
I mean, let’s all just think about our own experiences. We didn’t all end up dating only that classmate we have been going to school with for years, did we? Surely at some point, our husbands and wives were near strangers to us, sometime during our first dates?
So rather than give our teens impractical advice like “don”t go out with strangers” , it would make them alot safer by
1. Giving useful advice on how to increase their safety on a date
2. Letting them know that you’re not gonna get pissed with them for going out on a date, so that they can confide in you, and you can help watch out for them.
So how do we increase our safety on a date?
I’m sure most of you already know, or if not, the info is pretty much out there:
- go out in groups
- stay only in public places
- insist that you can make your way to the date and back home on your own, rather than accepting a ride with him alone in his car. Or else, he can accompany you on public transport.
- letting someone, preferably your parents, know who you are going out with, and their details/contact no.s
- letting your date know that someone knows about him, and is watching out for you
What I find is that, while in an ideal world, the parents serve as the teen’s guardians, often, the teens do not dare to tell their parents anything, which hugely compromises their safety.
In order to get around this, I stress the importance of at least letting SOMEONE else know. Your classmate, or your best friend for example.
You need to give this friend DETAILS
Your date needs to know your friend has his details; that’s a deterrant
You need to tell your friend “I intend to be home by 10pm tonight. So if I don’t call you by 11pm, I might be in trouble and you need to get help”
Your friend has to be reliable and trustworthy enough to actually try to call you, if you don’t call her/him, and reliable and trustworthy enough to contact your parents/the police, if you actually might be in trouble.
And by the way, this applies to boys too. = )
When recent comments from MICA, from Lui, are interpreted as attempts to control internet content, that completely misses the point, in my view.
What China does – actively searching out for anti-govt blogs on an hourly basis and actively blocking them out , or jailing the blog writers – THAT is internet content control. Control means acting to determine what content is or is not posted online.
In Singapore, comments from State regulators and legislators DISCREDITS internet content – specifically internet POLITICAL content. It does not control, nor can it control, for reasons that many excellent writers have pointed out.
How internet content is discredited
When Dr Lee of MICA recently commented that “There is a difference from giving such (banned political) films the privilege to circulate FREELY in Singapore, to saying that those who want to watch it, you go to the DARK REACHES of the Internet and watch it.”, the subtle message internet-un-saavy people get is that offline information is accurate and well-intentioned, whereas internet content is inaccurate, has underlying ill motives, and is trying to brainwash you.
When Lui remarks that “the Internet is not an effective self-REGULATED regime as some may have touted it to be”, the subtle message is that the internet is in need of regulation, meaning that it must be chaotic and irresponsible to begin with.
Just like if I were to take a person from a mountain top, who has never been to Singapore before, and bring him to Geylang, to Desker Road, show him all the toilet graffiti and litter, he would easily believe my words when I say that “the vast MAJORITY were unhelpful, a significant number were unkind, a small number were downright outrageous”. He’ll believe that the Esplanade and Singapore Museum does not exist. Just like people believe sites like TheOnlineCitizen, or TheSingaporeEnquirer, or SingaporeDaily.net does not exist.
When TODAY published their follow-up report How Some Bloggers Set the Tone (http://www.todayonline.com/articles/300644.asp), they basically printed ‘confessions’ from the ‘culprits’: “Mr Choo Zheng Xi, editor of The Online Citizen, CONCEDED that netizens’ response to such comments “could have been stronger”.” “WHEN blogger Rachel Chung read some unkind comments by netizens over the fiery attack on Yio Chu Kang MP Seng Han Thong last month, she felt compelled to respond. “I blogged that some people condoned the attacker and felt disgusted,” she told Today.” The subtle message? Look, the bloggers have confessed, no one is misrepresenting them.
What could be the motive for this concerted effort to discredit political content on the internet?
Looking at 2 very relevant recent elections – the US elections, the Malaysian elections – we see the rising influence that internet content and tools (like Facebook) has on the election outcome . Local political parties have noticed this. Opposition parties make their presence felt by contributing to this comment and organizing events via the internet. The ruling party has also noticed it, and made alterations to the law to enable themselves to legally harness this new media, should the need arise in future.
A sophisticated government would not even attempt to control the internet content. Firstly, you shoot yourself in the foot, because it stops you from using the media effectively yourself. Secondly, you can never totally control all the information, and the news that you are actually controlling content (as China does) will eventually get out. That will make you look controlling, immature, and worse, ineffective. Thirdly, for our commerce, research and industry to prosper, internet control would be very unhelpful.
If you think about it carefully, it is not what gets written, that influences the election results. It is what people THINK about the things that are written, that influences the election result. Once you have grasped that, you will move away from controlling what gets written and posted online, to influencing the thoughts of people. Discrediting the political information you get from the internet is the perfect way to start.
The MP Seng incident is a perfect incident which can be used to discredit internet content. Diversity of views have long been publicized as being potentially violent and destabilizing. The Race Riots, and internation protest marches that turned violent are constantly used to justify State control on public demonstrations. When this diversity of views get aired online, it becomes harder to claim that these “protests” can turn violent.
MP Seng’s incident presented the perfect opportunity for persuading the internet-un-saavy that the long held matras of diversity=violence, still holds with the internet community. A violent act committed by a person who is likely insane, now becomes “committed” and “endorsed” by the internet community.
The message the internet-un-saavy electorate will remember is that any news from the internet is written by unkind, unjust, violent terrorists, who spout inaccurate information, with the evil underlying motive of brainwashing the good Singaporeans.
Internet political content has just acquired the same reputation as pornography and criminals.
Is there are need to control internet content?
There wouldn’t be if this negative PR blitz is kept up, which I suspect it will. A point will be reached when anything can be posted online, true or false, and it will no longer be believed. Unless the website is a government website with the credentials and authority. Why is there the insistence that the government would only engage citizen feedback through REACH and nowhere else? Because engaging on any other website would legitimize them, and they can no longer be painted as monsters.
Discrediting internet content this way works because the vast majority of the electorate is internet-un-saavy. While it is true that internet penetration in our population is one of the highest in the world, with 80% of households having internet access, most of the older generation use the internet in a very rudimentary way, and are often bombarded by warnings against the “dangers” lurking on the internet. It is very easy to capitalize on these fears and misinformation. As the demographics of the electorate shift, this strategy of discreditation will no longer work, but I believe by then, persuasion methods would have evolved accordingly.
What can WE, the internet-saavy citizens, do?
On our part as the internet-saavy and misrepresented, what can we do? Writing brilliant articles read by the converted will do little. I think most internet-saavy people, including blog writers and readers, already understand the situation. We need to move away from the “us” versus “them” mentality, and remember that each of us is part of a family, part of a community. Our strength is not our words, but our personal ties. In our conversations with our family and friends, colleagues and classmates, we can talk about what we’ve learnt from online content. We can share how TheOnlineCitizen was the first to break the news on abandoned workers, and how the mainstream press then followed up.
This may not be a loud voice of justice, but this is a voice that will be listened to. A voice that will carry the credibility of alternative news, and the safety of diverse views, from the virtual to the real world.
I read today that 17 of 28 AIMS recommendations were taken up by MICA
Mainstream News from :
SPH: Political films’ ban to ease
http://www.yawningbread.org/ (Alex Au)
http://singaporerebel.blogspot.com/ (Martyn See)( He’s the guy who survived 15 months of police investigation for the making of banned short film ‘Singapore Rebel’, deemed to be an illegal political film under the law. He made ‘Zahari’s 17 Years’, a documentary on an ex-political detainee, and ‘Speakers Cornered’, a chronology of brief scenes from a street corner standoff between pro-democracy activists and the police. )
In China today, when an event happens that their government does not allow their mainstream state-controlled media to report on, citizens are feeding photos and news directly to bloggers. This happens a lot with planned events, such as marches and demonstrations, where people can prepare to be citizen-reporters with their cameras and phones. I’ve had the privilege of being in the company of China students here, and I’ve seen first hand how that works.
Photos are taken, and almost immediately put up on the first line of blogs/ forums. Overseas-Chinese immediately download these articles and put them up on their own blogs. The first line of blogs based in China are almost immediately blocked off by the government , such that people in china cannot view them. But the second line of bloggers have already made sure that these articles have gone viral. News that NEVER sees a mainstream publishing house. The news gets reported on the internet almost in real time.
And months and years after the event has happened, the game of cat and mouse between the government censors and the articles mushrooming all over still continues – because people MAKE SURE such info never dies. On the government’s part, it’s like trying to catch the wind. Silly and futile.
I was puzzled about how our State would enforce the regulations it was setting. For example, Zhahari’s “17 years” (http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=2022589417781119779&hl=en-GB) was banned but made it to the internet.(Watch also Singapore Rebel, a banned film the Martyn was investigated 15 moths for http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_DRoUOcupo)
Dr Lee however said that “There is a difference from giving such films the privilege to circulate freely in Singapore, to saying that those who want to watch it, you go to the dark reaches of the Internet and watch it.” I think those of us who are Internet-literate are scratching our heads wondering where the “dark reaches of the Internet” are. The last I heard, porn was banned in Singapore. The last I checked, every male above 13 has Internet porn at home.
Words like “the dark reaches of the Internet” would probably be respected by some readers of the print media, because the fact is, most readers today still fall into the generation who fear the internet, and are not savvy with its power. Given that the Gen Y and beyond feel more comfortable shouting online than off, I do not think that activists for internet de-regulation have to do much – they just have to wait 10 years for the age demographics to shift.
How do you criminalise films (or anything)? When they can be hosted overseas by people overseas.
How can you criminalise civil servants speaking up? When the Internet offers wonderful identity cover, of when information could be passed on to people posting from overseas?
These are not rhetorical questions I’m asking. I’m genuinely wondering. Because what’s making their laws effective right now, is not the State’s ability to enforce the law, but the ignorance and apathy that the older generation have towards the internet, that is according the State this power. Power can only be, if there are subjects are willing to be subjects.
It reminds me of the King from the Little Prince, who was the only person on his planet. When the Little Prince came, the Little Prince couldn’t be bothered to be a subject. Can this person be called a King? ( http://www.angelfire.com/hi/littleprince/chapter10.html )
Of course, it’s only fair for me to add that Today, in the way it placed its news articles, has once again answered that important question of how the State intended to live up to it’s promise of making the internet a “safer” place : Seoul gets tough with online Cassandras. ( http://www.todayonline.com/articles/296419.asp ). Of course they could just clamp down on the hardware, shut down internet providers, and go the North Korea way. But that would of course, be the end of Singapore as we know it.
I do understand the need for restrictions on free speech, to be honest. If you notice, I NEVER blog about what goes on with my work or workplace (beyond stuff you can find for yourself in the public domain). And I wouldn’t like anyone else I’m working with to do the same. Let me give you an example why. In R&D, intellectual property is your biggest product and asset. One of the criteria for patenting stuff is that it must not be public information you’re patenting – and anything publically published is public info. So if a member of the R&D team actually blogs about what we do, that would effectively sabotage our ability to patent. That can cost MILLIONS of dollars, and a lot of everyone’s work.
I don’t blog, not because there is a technical way of preventing me from doing so, but because I choose not to, after being convinced of the reasons. I also have faith in the feedback and management system in my institute. Should one day this mechanism breakdown, and human safety becomes compromised and ignored despite attempts to address them, then that is when the internet becomes really important – for whistle-blowing. At such a point, it would be ethically wrong not to bring it up. And I believe the management knows that, and that keeps power within organizations in check, nowadays.
In the past, where top management knows they have the State’s backing and media censorship, they can get away with a lot more. They know it can’t be done today, and that keeps them clean. The relationship between the media and government was supposed to be one of checks-and-balance , but it has been the case in few countries. With the New Media, the media can finally live up to its intended role.