This article has been edited for submission to My Paper’s Viewpoints, from the previous article here.
“The real danger lies with online forums and blogs where netizens are allowed to post comments indiscriminately, hiding behind the shroud of a pseudonym or, in some instances, the cloak of anonymity” (Take Online Material With A Pinch Of Salt, Mr. David Lim).
Mr. David Lim, in his commentary “Take Online Material With A Pinch Of Salt” (January 8, 2011), has genuine cause for concern; given the proliferation of the Internet and the increased spread and accessibility of information, words or comments can be easily – and readily – distorted or misinterpreted. He is especially critical of websites or online platforms that grant users the autonomy to remain anonymous or make use of pseudonyms, for he laments the lack of credibility and utility of the generated content. Nonetheless, there are a few areas that should be highlighted: one, anonymity does not equate to inaccurate or needless content; two, pseudonyms can be used for genuine identity-related concerns; and three, socio-political websites can be constructive platforms for policy discourse, recommendations and public engagement.
For any form of information or news-pieces generated, it is the message over the messenger. The onus is very much on the reader to determine whether a piece of writing should be taken seriously, as credibility can be evaluated based on an assortment of elements: from their archives, readers’ comments, what others are saying et cetera. However, the line is crossed when bloggers resort to vitriol, and degenerate their articles into unconstructive diatribes that are have the potential to be derogatory and inflammatory. Ultimately, the bottom-line is that individuals should not be quick to generalise anonymous bloggers, and instead judge the material for what it really is.
Pseudonyms can actually be a form of creative expression, which allows writers to be less inhibited in their writing styles. However, in the Singaporean context, there are reasons for writers to mask their real-life identities. First, some might be in the civil service, a line of profession that has its own set of guidelines and regulations in terms of political writing online. Second, private employers might not be comfortable with the idea of activism on the Internet, especially when a majority of the material on the World Wide Web is anti-establishment in nature. Finally, family and friends can also be slightly conservative in thinking, potentially limiting the freedom of personal expression.
Political websites serve as alternative news sources which are convenient and accessible; more importantly, they provide varying perspectives in the form of commentaries and policy recommendations. These online platforms are also constructive for discourse and discussion, and for the general populace to provide criticisms to the administration. In the final stage, credible online clout would empower the editors to synthesis online and offline efforts, developing greater advocacy and activism in the real world (airing concerns at the Speaker’s Corner, conversing with on-the-ground individuals et cetera).
Ultimately, scrutiny should be employed both on-line and off-line; because immediate dismissal of this online content might blind Singaporeans to a side that holds valuable insights in the form of policy recommendations and constructive criticisms. Balance and equilibrium are tremendously important in the aforementioned.
A version of this article was published in My Paper.