“Bloggers and websites have a responsibility to give accurate information, especially in times of crisis, observers said in response to Government criticism of those who spread false information during the recent haze … These included a screenshot showing wrong PSI information; blogger Ravi Philemon quoting his friend, alleging that N95 masks being brought into Singapore were not for the public; and The Real Singapore website falsely attributing an article to PAP MP Irene Ng” (“Online Sites Have Responsibility To Give Accurate Info: Observers” (July 11, 2013) by Miss Tessa Wong).
Many who write (or read) online might be under the misapprehension that they should be cut some slack, because they have – at their disposal – less manpower and resources, and they also feel pressured to put out articles and “breaking news” as soon as they are available. This mistaken belief stems from, I believe, the desire to “one-up” the mainstream media in Singapore (particularly in terms of speed, as well as the purported diversity of perspectives), and a growing culture of sensationalism (and many would supplement: the growth of the per-click model). This should explain the provocative choice of headlines (I too, am guilty), the predilection to publish extremely critical narratives, and stronger trigger-happy attitudes.
Yet for me, veracity is very much the bottom-line. Even if it means tempering the speed of how news is pushed out and consumed.
Blogger Siew Kum Hong argued that Mr. Philemon did not “seek to sensationalise” the unverified information. That is fair, though nobody can genuinely ascertain these “intents” (more often than not, they can be conveniently manipulated to one’s advantage; and, should we always give online writers the benefit of the doubt, even though we can never ascertain the veracity of their “intents”). Therefore, while intent is marginally important to determine culpability, certainly the consequences should be taken into consideration too. Remember the allegations that “Ilo Ilo” did not receive government funding (here)? The child-grab incident (here)? Or the falsehoods about an injured soldier from a military grenade exercise (here), which unsettled parents?
Facts are sacred, opinions are cheap. The Internet does not change this. In the words of German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt, the “freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not dispute”.