Friday 19 July 2013

TRS website popular but ranks low on credibility

Observers cite plagiarism and the anonymity of its editors as big flaws
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2013

A WEBSITE that made the news twice in recent weeks for publishing information that PAP MPs say is false is popular with some online readers but ranks low on credibility among sociopolitical sites and blogs.

New media watchers consider The Real Singapore (TRS) the "black sheep" among such sites because of its track record of publishing plagiarised content and unverified assertions, and because its editors are anonymous.

According to Web statistics company Alexa, TRS enjoys higher traffic than many other sites, which observers put down to its sensational content. But when it comes to credibility, TRS fares badly in these media watchers' assessments.

The anonymity of TRS' editors is a major reason to not take it seriously, said former Nominated MP Calvin Cheng. Knowing the editor's identity is important because "it shows an individual is willing to take responsibility for the content", he said.

TRS brands itself as a serious platform for the "voices of average Singaporeans". But when caught publishing unverified information, as it was this week in a dispute with Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, its editors dodged responsibility by saying they did not produce the content but simply provided a platform for articles by members of the public.

The dispute was over an article containing allegations about Chua Chu Kang town council which Mr Zaqy described as "clearly false and borders on defamation". Two weeks ago, Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng lodged a police report about an article that the site falsely attributed to her.

Last November, a lawyer's letter was sent to the site over a defamatory article it published about Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, which it later took down.

Observers drew a distinction between TRS, which gives an impression of reliability, and humour website New Nation.

Though both have carried speculative pieces, Institute of Policy Studies research fellow Carol Soon said that New Nation makes it clear it is doing so for satire, "so readers clearly know that they should not take what they read on the site seriously".

During the recent haze crisis, blogger Ravi Philemon re-published on his Facebook page an allegation that the Government's stockpile of N95 masks was not for the public.

Dr Soon said that the public backlash to Mr Philemon's post and to a recent tirade by blogger Andrew Loh against President Tony Tan Keng Yam "points to an increasing expectation among the Singapore public for people to practise responsibility when producing and sharing content".

Rumours about politicians and their families have also made the rounds online, though these tend to originate from relatively unknown blogs. Nominated MP Eugene Tan cited one such rumour, started two years ago, that Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing was related to Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Such misinformation is potentially "damaging and unhealthy", he said.

Observers generally agreed that Singaporeans are becoming more discerning in sifting true information from false but added that more media literacy would help, especially when websites such as TRS that thrive on unverified facts tend to be popular.

Mr Cheng, who is a member of the Media Literacy Council, said that "people have to be taught to fact-check themselves before they believe something, or re-post it".

"If we have a media-illiterate population that naively believes whatever they read, then we are in trouble."

Woman withdraws allegations about Chua Chu Kang Town Council, apologises
In a joint statement, town council apologises to her for inconvenience
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 20 Jul 2013

A WOMAN who made false allegations about the Chua Chu Kang Town Council and its chairman Zaqy Mohamad, on The Real Singapore (TRS) website, has apologised and withdrawn her remarks.

The town council, too, apologised to her for causing her inconvenience when it gave her a wrong phone number for its insurer.

Ms Tham, who declined to give her age and occupation, had injured herself in May when she fell on a staircase at Block 293, Choa Chu Kang Avenue 3.

She wrote to TRS twice to complain about the town council's handling of her case.

In her second letter, published on July 13, Ms Tham alleged the town council had replaced the staircase railing, saying it contradicted a claim allegedly made by Mr Zaqy that there were "no issues" with the staircase.

Mr Zaqy, a Chua Chu Kang GRC MP, subsequently took TRS to task for publishing the second letter, saying the accusation was "clearly false and borders on defamation".

Yesterday's joint statement said Ms Tham had checked and acknowledged "there was indeed no replacement of railings and admitted her mistakes in stating otherwise in her letter to TRS".

It also said Ms Tham, who is making an insurance claim for her fall, had assumed the railings were replaced as the town council had told the loss adjuster it is considering replacing them in the future. A loss adjuster is a third party assessor of an insurance claim, and in this case was engaged by the town council's insurer.

The town council, which made a typo error when giving Ms Tham its insurer's phone number, said it will work to improve its communication efforts.

Mr Zaqy has also offered to facilitate her claim process.

The statement said she will write to the TRS editor to remove her July 13 letter. Ms Tham yesterday declined to comment further on her apology.

Mr Zaqy told The Straits Times he was "thankful Ms Tham came forward to work with us on the joint statement. We came to an agreement and we will help her with her claims".

He met her at the town council office yesterday, and she had brought a prepared statement of apology, he said. But the town council decided to work with her on a joint statement.

TRS removed the posting's contents yesterday afternoon, but kept the accusatory headline.

It directed readers to another posting with the joint statement, and said Ms Tham had told the site that "without us her concern would never have been escalated and resolved so quickly".

Ms Tham, however, told The Straits Times last night she did not make the comment and asked the site to remove it.

Mr Zaqy said he had no further comment on the site's actions.

The Real Singapore founder confirms he remains linked to site
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 18 Jul 2013

ALTHOUGH the identities of those running the socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) are unclear, one of its founders has confirmed that he remains linked to it.

Mr Alex Tan, a 25-year-old systems engineer, told The Straits Times yesterday that he continues to contribute articles to the site anonymously.

But, he said, he has never met the site's chief editor, who calls himself Mohd Farhan, and to whom he passed control of the site last year.

Questions about who runs the website have arisen since it was taken to task this month by two MPs.

Two weeks ago, Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng made a police report, accusing the site of falsely attributing to her an article it published. Earlier this week, Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad asked the website to remove allegations regarding his town council.

TRS responded to Mr Zaqy on Tuesday with an online statement signed by Mr Mohd Farhan with the title chief editor - a rare instance of the site revealing clues of its editorship.

Yesterday, Mr Tan said he started the website with a couple he has never met personally and whom he believes live in Australia.

He became acquainted with them online early last year after he responded to their call on Facebook for socio-political articles on Singapore.

The couple identified themselves to him as Mr Yang Kaiheng and Ms Ai Takagi, but Mr Tan said he could not establish whether they were real. Checks online show that the site was created last June.

The trio ran it and communicated only via e-mail, until the end of last year, when Mr Mohd Farhan, a contributor to the site, volunteered to take over the reins, he said.

Again, all communication was done online and he had never met Mr Farhan. Mr Tan said: "I'm comfortable dealing with anonymous persons and editors. My objective has always been for my writing to reach a wider audience."

On Tuesday, The Straits Times received an e-mail from a Mr Farhan, saying the couple were never editors of TRS. He refused to comment further on his identity and the site's editorship.

Yesterday, Mr Zaqy said he will not take legal action against TRS for posting false information. He gave it 24 hours on Tuesday to remove the post but it was not done.

"We note TRS' position and are content to let members of the public reach their own conclusions based on what has been written by both sides."

Another MP takes website to task for publishing false info
Zaqy: Letter published on The Real Singapore borders on defamation
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2013

A SECOND MP from the People's Action Party (PAP) has taken issue with sociopolitical website The Real Singapore (TRS) for publishing false information.

Chua Chu Kang MP Zaqy Mohamad asked TRS early yesterday morning to produce evidence in the next 24 hours to back up an article it published about his town council or remove the post and apologise.

His move, made in a Facebook posting, comes two weeks after Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng made a police report against TRS for publishing an article it falsely attributed to her.

The TRS post pinpointed by Mr Zaqy has a letter written by Ms Serene Tham, who alleges she suffered injuries from falling down a staircase at Block 293, Choa Chu Kang Avenue 3.

Ms Tham, whose age and other personal particulars could not be established, also alleges recent actions by the town council contradict its earlier statement that the staircase is safe.

Mr Zaqy, who is the town council's chairman, said what Ms Tham said is "clearly false and borders on defamation".

He added that the matter is being investigated for an insurance claim and that TRS should "take great care to validate all facts before considering to publish such potentially defamatory articles".

TRS yesterday uploaded pictures of Ms Tham's alleged injuries. In a statement signed by a Mr Mohd Farhan, whom it called its chief editor, TRS said it had contacted Ms Tham, who is sticking to what she wrote.

As of press time, the posting had not been removed from the website, which now also carries Mr Zaqy's statement.

The TRS statement also said its editors are "now taking the time to respond to and clarify our position on this issue".

It said it tries to validate facts before publishing, but "due to the nature of many of the issues raised, it is in fact impossible for us to wait for or even receive clarification from MPs or government organisations on the issues".

In a separate editor's note on Ms Ng's case, TRS claimed it is a platform for users to post articles, and it does "not necessarily agree with or have the ability to completely censor all articles posted".

It said it had received the article from someone using the e-mail address

The site has removed the article in question and said it is assisting the police with investigations.

Who are The Real Singapore's real editors?
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 17 Jul 2013

MYSTERY surrounds the identity of the editors of The Real Singapore (TRS), who until yesterday were believed to be a couple living in Australia.

It was sparked by a TRS statement yesterday signed off by a "Mohd Farhan", with the title "chief editor".

Checks on its website found a total of five TRS articles signed off by either a "Farhan" or "Mohd Farhan".

One article was linked to the Twitter profile and website of 27-year-old writer Farhan Shah. When contacted, he denied being involved with TRS and expressed surprise his website was linked to it.

He said he had written the article for another website, but it had been reproduced by TRS without his consent.

Separately, The Straits Times was contacted by someone claiming to be a "Farhan" representing TRS.

He said he was not Mr Farhan Shah, adding that it was not true an Australian-based couple are editors of TRS. He declined to comment further.

The Straits Times understands from a source who is in contact with TRS, that Dr Joseph Ong and Mr Alex Tan remain linked with TRS.

Dr Ong, a medical doctor believed to be in his 30s, was linked previously to the defunct website Temasek Review. He was arrested in 2011 for conducting an illegal election exit poll.

When contacted, he said he did not know anything about TRS and refused to comment further.

Mr Tan, a 25-year-old systems engineer and blogger who contested in the 2011 general election under the Reform Party banner, is one of the founders of TRS.

He could not be contacted yesterday.

Beware of websites run by anonymous owners

SINGAPOREANS should be concerned about websites run by anonymous owners, as many of these sites serve to divide us ("TRS website popular but ranks low on credibility"; Thursday).

These sites may be run by foreigners and foreign agencies who wish to do us harm.
After all, there have been reports of foreign agencies setting up websites to promote certain causes and regularly editing entries in Wikipedia to favour certain viewpoints ("CIA, Vatican and Howard's office 'edited Wikipedia'"; Aug 29, 2007).

Many less-discerning Singaporeans believe whole articles on such websites simply because parts of them are true and the message resonates with them. They forget that the best liars do not lie completely.

Many of these sites are not only anti-government but also anti-Singapore and highly defamatory. Singaporeans who write the occasional credible anti-government article may lend a certain credibility to such websites, and influence netizens into believing that the sites are reliable.

Tan Ying San
ST Forum, 20 Jul 2013


No comments:

Post a Comment