Friday, 11 January 2013

Restore discipline in social media

FOR those of us who believe that political discourse should be conducted in a serious and honest manner, the proliferation of social media has been a bane ("PM asks blogger to remove 'defamatory post'"; last Saturday).

Witness the number of baseless accusations that have been made on the Internet. In what we call the "new normal", this decline in standards has become worse.

Although under the law, there is no difference between the responsibilities of an Internet publisher and a print publisher, social bloggers have sought a degree of immunity as they regard the Net as "free" media.

In some cases, when Internet publishers were sent a lawyer's letter, they quickly apologised and removed the defamatory postings, only to surface a few months later with another defamatory posting.

The speed at which they recanted their allegations suggests that they knew what they posted was defamatory in the first place.

What is also interesting is their taking advantage of the "resident" nature of the Internet, where articles remain in cyberspace until they are removed.

If given a time period to delete a certain posting, they would stretch it until almost the end of the deadline, thereby eking out as much mileage as possible.

So we have bloggers whose integrity is highly questionable.

But is their standing in the social media community damaged by their apologies? Hardly.

One need only read the visitors' comments on the sites that have apologised for their postings to confirm this.

Like a gang leader who gains respect by having gone to jail, these bloggers get more respect after having "taken on" the establishment.
I hope that we put an end to this state of affairs.

The way to do this is for those who have been wrongly accused to sue the culprits for defamation.

Obviously, this would spark an outcry in certain circles.

But integrity and honesty are virtues we need to protect as a society.

We need to restore some discipline in social media, and hopefully this becomes the "new normal".
Tan Ying San
ST Forum, 10 Jan 2013

Baseless claims hurt credibility of writers
IT SEEMS that withdrawing defamatory comments, together with issuing an apology, has become the norm these days when one receives a legal letter from the other party. This was exactly what two public figures did recently ("Blogger Alex Au apologises to PM" and "Wijeysingha apologises to minister"; both published on Sunday).

I cannot fathom why people would make inappropriate remarks when they are cognisant of the dire consequences.

It is unthinkable that allegations of abuse of power or corruption are made when there are no hard facts or evidence to substantiate them.

Actions such as removing the defamatory articles and publishing an apology are righteous and proper in both cases, but there will be serious questions about the credibility of what the writers articulate in future.
Jeffrey Law
ST Forum, 10 Jan 2013

Don't drive online debate underground
WHILE I cannot presume to judge whether or not blogger Alex Au's article or the comments it attracted were defamatory, I am concerned that serving a letter of demand on him may not be entirely in the public interest ("PM asks blogger to remove 'defamatory post'"; last Saturday).

First, the threat of legal action may drive online debate into forums that are more obscure and harder to track.

The allegations in question this time were similar in tone and substance to hundreds of comments posted every day on some online forums.

Yet it was Mr Au's blog that attracted the threat of legal action.

It is logical to serve lawyers' letters preferentially on the most accessible websites, as defamatory statements posted on them have the greatest impact.

However, this tends to embolden netizens on underground forums, while punishing those who are more out in the open, thus "radicalising" online discourse.

Second, recent cases of websites being served lawyers' letters for allegedly defamatory statements have set a precedent.

Such cases have been resolved with an apology and the removal of the offending material; they have not gone to court.

However, if in the future, someone should serve a letter of demand for an allegation that actually merits further investigation, but the case is similarly resolved through an apology and deletion, this would not be good for transparency and accountability.

We all appreciate that our leaders' reputations should be defended. However, I fear that lawyers' letters may serve more to sour the online mood.

In the long run, this atmosphere might well be deleterious to public trust.

Perhaps a letter of demand should be seen more as a nuclear option, when open and responsible debate has failed.
Rayner Teo
ST Forum, 10 Jan 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment