“As many observers have pointed out, the Internet has brought out the best and worst in Singaporeans” (The Singaporean In The Digital Ether: An Evolving Identity, Alicia Wong).
Reading about how “the Internet has brought out the best and worst in Singaporeans” (TODAY, Apr. 18) – with the sparking of positive societal change on one side and the proliferation of lynch mobs and vigilantes on the other – was disappointing, because this dichotomised characterisation of the Internet space in Singapore is hardly accurate. Moreover such diversity in opinions is not unique to the Internet too. Stringing together disparate anecdotes the commentary also provided few valuable insights, besides a survey which reaffirmed the high rates of Internet penetration and usage in the country.
And while the commentary focused on socio-political issues which have transpired, the average Internet user seems to pay little attention to them when plugged in. In the very same survey by the market research firm GlobalWebIndex these concerns do not feature in the top 10 topics of online conversation. Instead travel and vacations, mobile phones, and fast food rank the highest. One might contest these findings, since “Singapore Budget 2014”, the “Pioneer Generation Package”, and “CPF contribution rate” featured in the top 10 Google searches last year, but a distinction could be made between searches and social media usage. The problem with the categories of “best and worst” or “the good, the bad, and the ugly” is that behaviours – and responses to these behaviours – do not sit neatly, and could even provide fodder for individuals to advance agendas. How many times has the Internet been described as the “Wild, Wild West”, to be reined in by regulation? Controversies involving Anton Casey and Amy Cheong drew many into a witch hunt, yet little is often said about the many individuals online who condemned these actions and offered counter-responses. Trying to determine a Singapore identity in cyberspace is somewhat reductive. The diversity of the community will only increase, and as more are encouraged to have their say on socio-political matters our fledging environment of discourse will only benefit from such plurality. As a tool the Internet does not have to make case for itself. What appears more pertinent is for individuals to take greater ownership and responsibility during their engagements, and to approach all forms of content with healthy scepticism. In this vein the S.U.R.E. information literacy awareness campaign organised by the National Library Board is not only applicable to information on the Internet, but across other platforms too. And in this vein “reasoned political discourse and intelligent, constructive criticism” could become more ubiquitous.