Saturday, 9 June 2012

JC student apologises to DPM Teo for offensive blog post

Teenager deletes expletive-filled post, meets Mr Teo with dad and teacher
By Stacey Chia & Matthias Chew, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2012

JUNIOR college student Reuben Wang was so annoyed by what he heard from a VIP at a seminar that he blogged: 'F*** you, sir.'

The VIP was Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, the key speaker at this year's annual Pre-U Seminar attended by more than 500 students last week.

Reuben's blog post went viral and he blogged again, unrepentant about his use of the expletive.

But yesterday, the St Andrew's Junior College (SAJC) student had a change of heart, met Mr Teo at the Ministry of Home Affairs and apologised to him.

The JC1 student told The Straits Times later that he realised his post was 'rash' after reading his friends' comments.

Mr Teo said: 'I am glad he has taken the time to reflect, and recognises that what he said, as well as the way he said it, were wrong.'

Reuben, 17, removed both his posts earlier this week.

In the first, dated June 2, after the five-day seminar ended, he accused Mr Teo of dodging difficult questions during the question-and-answer portion of the seminar on May 29, by turning the questions on students instead of answering them himself.

They included questions on press freedom and a sense of belonging in Singapore.

Reuben wrote the profanity three times in his 700-word public post. Three days later, he wrote again to say he stood by his remarks, even as he conceded that his use of the swear word was in 'bad taste'.

By Wednesday, however, both posts and his blog were deleted.

That morning, Reuben said, he had sent Mr Teo an e-mail to apologise and the minister invited him for a chat yesterday. 'After reading comments from my friends, I came to a realisation that there were merits in the way DPM Teo handled the session,' he said.

During their half-hour meeting yesterday, the two discussed Reuben's post and other topics, including his hobbies.

Reuben's father and an SAJC teacher were also present. Mr Teo gave the teenager a book on economics and autographed it.

Schoolmates described the school debater as 'quiet', except when voicing opinions on issues he was passionate about.

SAJC principal Lee Bee Yann said the school had counselled him and he initiated the apology.

An Education Ministry spokesman said the tone and language Reuben used were 'rude and unbecoming' and added: 'We hope to turn this into a teachable moment both for the student blogger and students in general.'

Mr Teo said he had avoided simply giving students answers during the seminar as he wanted them to think deeply about the difficult choices they had to make.

'It was a lively and engaging session,' he said. 'Some of them offered answers to their own questions after a little encouragement.'

The student's original post had some netizens expressing support for his views, but even more condemned his choice of words.

Blogger Kwan Jin Yao, 21, who is waiting to enter university, said that while Reuben's criticisms were valid, they may have been 'obscured by the liberal use of expletives'.

Hwa Chong Institution student Victor Zhu, 16, who attended the seminar, said he thought the minister's answers to difficult questions were 'thought-provoking'.

Political observers and social media experts said the incident was a reflection of young people's attitudes towards authority and the Government.

Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin noted that young people do not feel as beholden to the ruling party as older folk.

'For some of them, being a politician is just like being in any other profession, no need to be so deferential,' he said, adding that politicians in the United States and Britain were treated with even less regard.

Social media experts said that anonymity online might give youngsters more courage to express their views.

Social media lawyer Lionel Tan said: 'I doubt he would say those words in public, or in person.'

He added that it was a good thing that the younger generation were more questioning, but added that there ought to be 'a tone of civility'.

Meanwhile, Reuben said he would take some time to reflect on what happened and take a break from blogging for a while.

'Blogging is very important to me, but I want to let this cool down and start on a clean slate.'

A lesson on airing views online, say students
By Matthias Chew & Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2012

STUDENTS who attended the pre-university seminar said the Reuben Wang incident was a lesson to be more careful when airing one's views online.

All of the 20 student participants interviewed yesterday said it had been inappropriate for Reuben to swear at Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, no matter how frustrated he felt.

One of the 500 teens who attended the seminar, Reuben had directed a profanity three times at DPM Teo on his blog last week, as he was unhappy with the way the minister answered the students' queries.

Temasek Junior College student Tan Wei Ming, 17, said the fact that anyone can access a blog on the Internet meant that users should be more careful.

He noted: 'Once things are online, it is out there, you cannot take it back.'

School of the Arts student Valerie Koon, 17, said Internet users should take some time to think through their views before posting.

She said: 'At that point in time, I was angry with DPM's answers, but when I thought about it and put myself in his shoes, I better understood where he was coming from.'

Temasek Junior College student Tay Zi Hang, 16, said that although the use of profanities gained Reuben more readers, it turned the online debate from one about Mr Teo's responses to that of the blogger's own character.

He added that he refrains from using profanities on social media: 'It just shows that I'm hot-headed, and undermines my reliability. I don't achieve what I want, which is to put my point across.'

Yesterday, Reuben met Mr Teo and apologised for his comments. He said he was 'rash' in swearing at Mr Teo.

Darren Choy, 16, gave Mr Teo the thumbs up for wanting to meet Reuben.

'It shows that DPM wants to understand. It's not often that ministers sit down with their critics to hear their grievances,' said the Temasek Junior College student.

Millenia Institute student A. Bahvaani, 19, said the incident will not deter her from expressing her views, but she will do so in a civil fashion.

'We disagree with the Government, but I learnt that if we want to be the voice of change, we should do it the right way, and be responsible for our actions,' she said.

Expectations differ on dialogues
Some appreciate being asked for views, others prefer to hear from VIP
By Matthias Chew & Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 9 Jun 2012

STUDENTS who have taken part in dialogues with ministers say they have mixed feelings about having questions lobbed back at them.

When a minister responds to a question by asking what the student's view or solution is, reactions range from indignation to appreciation.

This practice is now being debated online and offline, after junior college student Reuben Wang, 17, wrote an angry blog post criticising Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean for asking students at a pre-university seminar what their solutions were to the questions they posed him.

Reuben apologised to Mr Teo and retracted his comments on Thursday.

Yesterday, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck said when he and his colleagues ask students for their views, it is not a bid to 'pass the ball back'. Rather, it is because policymakers value their input, he said, adding: 'No solution is perfect. It is a learning and two-way process for both sides.'

He said young people should not underestimate their own abilities to come up with solutions. Feedback from teenagers has prompted him to launch certain constituency programmes.

But some undergraduates who had their questions posed back to them at other ministerial forums said it was disconcerting.

During a dialogue last year, National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate Mah Yi Xin, 22, asked Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, then the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, if a $100 levy was enough to deter Singaporeans from gambling at casinos.

She found it 'frustrating' that instead of answering the question, he asked her what she thought.

'When people go for these forums, they want to hear what the minister says, rather than what participants say,' said Ms Mah.

Mr Muhammad Farouq Osman, 23, was stumped when Mr Lee Kuan Yew threw back a question about aid for low- and middle- income families during a university forum last year.

The NUS undergraduate worries such exchanges 'intimidate' other dialogue participants, who may not subsequently come forward with questions for fear of being put on the spot. He said what students want is not a 'right' answer but rather a glimpse into how policymakers, who have access to a wealth of data and support from civil servants, view urgent issues in society.

Still, others like Singapore Management University law undergraduate Lea Woon Yee believe they have gained from having questions posed back at them.

She attended a Young PAP forum last year during which Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing asked participants not just to 'throw stones', but to 'offer better solutions'.

The 22-year-old, who asked Mr Chan about youth involvement in the community, said that 'he was showing us that it's not such an easy problem' to solve.

It was effective, she said, because it allowed her to appreciate the constraints ministers face in making policy.

Jurong Junior College student Douglas Ong, 17, who attended the same pre-university seminar as Reuben, said students like him did not get a chance to speak to political leaders every day.

'We want to hear his opinions, rather than having to give our own. I see the point of getting us to think about our own views, but what we really want to hear is what he's going to do,' he said.

Ms Mah suggested that ministers might want to first answer the question, then seek students' views. That way, students would not be 'unsettled' by the swift return and the gesture 'would show that he is genuinely interested in your view'.

Keyboard thugs: The new generation 'warriors'
Abraham Rajadurai, Edvantage, 4 Jun 2012

To some he is a hero, to others he is no more than an angry young man.

A 17-year-old student is now one of the biggest topics of debate in the local blogosphere following his response to Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean's participation in the opening ceremony of the annual Pre-U Seminar on May 29.

The event was organised by Millennia Institute this year at Nanyang Technological University.

He extolled his words of wisdom, or lack thereof, about DPM Teo on the Internet in his blog, saying that the elder statesmen did little to answer the questions of students and did more to deflect questions back to the students.

DPM Teo, 57, had attempted to engage an audience who were roughly four decades his junior during the Pre-U Seminar on topics such as moral degeneration among Singaporeans, unemployment and potential economic recession.

More often than not he asked the students opinions for their opinions on their questions. Some answers and questions drew laughter and applause.

However, the student viewed the reactions to be similar to that of a ‘roasting’ session. Roasting is a spectacle of placing a guest centre-stage and insulting him to the applause and howls of an audience. It is a common feature on Saturday Night Live, but it is hard to juxtapose these two scenarios and conclude that they are similar.

The student’s piece was drenched with sarcasm and periodically interspaced with an all too familiar four-lettered word more commonly known to be used by sailors then those who are supposed to be the future leaders of Singapore.

Maybe the age gap caused a conflict of some sort. If he did, I am pretty sure that the students present could have highlighted it to him.

However, when a student does not have the grace to respect an elder person, perhaps it is time to acknowledge that there is a rot of somewhat in his upbringing instead of making him out to be a hero.

Another online community SG Hard Truths has also come out to criticise the youth’s uncouth behaviour, calling his behaviour cowardly for “hurling pot shots from a corner”.

It seems easy to criticise when you are shielded by a pseudonym and armed with a keyboard and computer. All you have to do is tap your thoughts out, hit send, and your masterpiece is available for all to see. No need to think, no repercussions, just spout what you want to say and you are safe.

That seems to be the attitude of a lot of today’s youth. Recently, there have been stories of teenagers dissing their parents online, hoping to be called a hero for hitting a parent , and now one about discolouring a minister with expletives online. And lest I forget, teachers too have been faulted for this.

Today it is easier to express an opinion or to share a grouse - all you have to do is shout it out on Facebook, Twitter or start a blog. But doing so without being held accountable for your actions may just give rise to a free-for-all; a royal rumble of sorts.

Are we ready for this generation of keyboard thugs? The local media often receives flak for not highlighting or spinning government issues in a positive light. The truth is, every news piece we put up has to have evidence behind it. We do not rant or rave, we simply present the issue.

The biggest problem that I foresee is a generation who are more comfortable with hiding behind a screen instead of coming outright and laying their cards on the table. If the author was really so uncomfortable with what he had witnessed why had he not questioned DPM Teo in person?

Perhaps the DPM could have done more to answer the questions of the students who might have felt disappointed. But to hide behind a screen and insult somebody, I’m sorry that does not make one hero, since there is no sign of bravery in that action.

Swearing off the profanities
Editorial, the Straits Times, 18 Jun 2012

PROFANITY on the Web is so common these days that it has lost much of its impact. It is poor substitute for wit or a clever argument, of course, but it's a no-brainer for some bloggers when words fail them.

Consequently, swearing for effect tends to be seen in a negative light, as noted by Glen Matlock, formerly of the Sex Pistols, in a television interview: 'It's pathetic when people just swear for the sake of it.' He should know as the punk band didn't do itself any favours by spewing vulgarities for no apparent reason on the most inappropriate occasions.

What is appropriate, of course, depends on the context of a group and a verbal exchange. In working class interactions and the online chatter of the young, foul words are so routinely traded that some would consider it a way of merely building rapport.

Hence, the measured response to the expletive-filled blog post of a junior college student commenting on this year's annual Pre-U Seminar where Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was the key speaker. The student deleted the post afterwards and apologised for his words, which an Education Ministry spokesman noted were 'rude and unbecoming'. The spokesman added: 'We hope to turn this into a teachable moment both for the student blogger and students in general.'

More troubling than just the language was the student's attitude - he wanted answers to national issues from the minister rather than to be asked for his views on them. It spoke of a lack of understanding that citizens own and shape the societies they live in, not government leaders or officials. Carried to extremes, this much lamented what's-in-it-for-me attitude is antithetical to fostering social cohesion and consensus on the way forward on the many challenges this country faces. Beyond this, the swearing incident raises questions of public manners and how public discourse should be conducted.

Even so, it would be unrealistic for language gestapos to even try to stamp out such conduct entirely. Swearing is so much a part of popular culture that it has surfaced everywhere, from acclaimed books like J. D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye to the HBO drama Deadwood. In real life, however, if the intent is to show disrespect or desecration, it can spark a chain of reactions that can spin out of control.

Worse, profanity for its own sake can vulgarise a community and degenerate the tone of public discussions. It could foster a cynical culture, more ready to knock down than to nurture and build. With maturity, the young may come to see that it is all a question of the time, tone and place.

No comments:

Post a Comment