Sunday 24 November 2013

PM outlines new approach for online engagement

Govt site to require registration to counter trolls who deter other views
By Leonard Lim And Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2013

NETIZENS who post on the website of the Government's feedback arm must register from next month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The change comes as Singapore moves towards a framework to take "full advantage" of the new media environment, in the light of a strategic shift in how people consume news and the attendant problems that have arisen as a result of social media.

Studies have shown that the anonymity the Internet confers increases unethical behaviour and contempt, PM Lee pointed out, so new rules will widen the space for constructive discourse and participation online. They will also let different perspectives surface and not just those of a vocal minority; and protect users from those who abuse cyberspace.

The new media landscape is an indispensable part of citizens' lives, he said at a Lianhe Zaobao event for its 90th anniversary.

"We must do more to harness its potential to improve our lives, while reducing its downsides."

In his first major speech on the media since an address to the Harvard Club in 2004, he listed three problems countries are grappling with in the Internet age - hacking, cyber bullying and trolling.

Recounting how several Singapore websites had been breached in the past few weeks, he said that such acts are "not a prank" but a serious threat. Hackers can cause grave harm, especially if government services are shut down or a hospital's IT system crashes.

Cyber bullying is another growing problem, and the issue plagues the young particularly.

Also unacceptable - trolling, where a debate online degenerates into harsh words being exchanged and hate-mongering, because users can hide behind fake names.

Such abuse is unacceptable in face-to-face interaction, and it should be the same for online discourse, Mr Lee said.

"Trolls deter serious readers from participating, and ruin the overall atmosphere in cyberspace," he added.

Singapore must fight back against this, he said. The move to require log-ins for users of the REACH site was decided in this context. The New York Times and YouTube require online users to log in before commenting. Others have banned comments.

Singapore, Mr Lee added, is in the midst of harmonising new media rules to bring them in line with those for mainstream media. Online news sites with a certain reach, for instance, will need to be licensed.

He was asked later for his thoughts on online sentiment that some recent policies have been "reactive".

The Government "cannot just react to online sentiments and decide, for example, that if people have said online that they don't like a particular policy, to just scrap it". It has to continue doing its job, he added, and try its best to communicate intentions so people understand what the Government is doing, and why.

To mistake views online as representative of the majority would lead to trouble, he replied.

To engage Singaporeans better, almost every ministry and MP has a Facebook account, he noted. "My recent post about a barn owl which flew into the Istana garnered 500,000 views within a day!"

He gave suggestions on how Lianhe Zaobao could continue to thrive, including how it must reflect diverse views objectively and responsibly.

PM offers 3 pointers to keep Zaobao thriving beyond 90
By Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong last night offered three suggestions to Singapore's main Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao on how to keep thriving beyond its 90th birthday.

Mr Lee was the guest of honour at a forum to mark the special occasion that also saw the launch of a new website,, for Singapore readers.

He noted that Zaobao is one of the longest-surviving Chinese newspapers in the world and is highly regarded in Asia.

It has almost 800,000 readers and the readership of its website,, is rising, he said in a speech in Mandarin centred on media issues.

At the same time, it faces new challenges owing to the onset of new media and changing news consumption habits of younger Singaporeans.

The three suggestions Mr Lee had for Zaobao were:
- To reflect the diverse views in Singapore society objectively and responsibly;
- To give a Singapore perspective on the region; and
- To transmit Chinese culture and values in new ways that appeal to younger Singaporeans.
He acknowledged that many Zaobao readers were concerned about the place of Chinese culture in Singapore and gave the assurance that the Government was doing its utmost to preserve it.

Among the measures he cited were promoting the use of mother tongue, upgrading Special Assistance Plan schools, building the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre and working with Business China to help Singaporeans succeed in China.

But he also stressed the need to remember that Singapore is a multiracial, multi-ethnic society.

"We have worked hard to build a Singapore identity, so we are all Singaporeans first, regardless of race or religion," he said.

There was a need to safeguard "our common secular space and our common language, English", he added.

On its part, Zaobao must reflect society's increasingly diverse views and needs, tone and temper, yet promote a shared understanding of national issues and challenges, he said.

Mr Lee stressed the need for careful reporting on sensitive or emotional issues, which is important in maintaining social cohesion in Singapore. "Naturally, this applies to all newspapers, not just Zaobao," he added.

But despite Singapore's multi- language environment, a participant noted a move towards using one language in many areas, like signage, for instance.

Mr Lee replied that the use of one language, English, was sometimes for expedience and to cater to an audience that understands the language.

But in important discussions, like parliamentary proceedings, all four official languages would be used, he said.

Facing new media's challenges
Anti-establishment element will always be inherent, says PM Lee at The Zaobao Forum
By Cai Haoxiang, The Business Times, 23 Nov 2013

SOME new media users in any country are likely to be anti-establishment, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a forum last night.

He said that to get the support of the people, the government must continue to do its work, try its best to communicate and involve people in its initiatives to give them a stronger sense of satisfaction.

"We can't wish for new media not to exist, but we can try our best to use it," Mr Lee said in Mandarin, in response to a question from a member of the audience, who asked how the government regards online views about how it is disconnected from the people.

"People who are content don't have time to go online, those who are unhappy will complain online," Mr Lee said. "I am not saying all contrarian views are complaints, but this seems to be a worldwide trend. Therefore, we need to understand these views, and interpret it objectively," he said.

"So the government must continue to do its work. We can't always be looking to see if the Internet approves or disapproves . . . but after doing our work, we must try our best to communicate with people and let people understand what we are doing."

Mr Lee was speaking to 300 members of the Chinese community, including readers of Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao, academics and students, at The Zaobao Forum held at the Singapore Press Holdings auditorium. Lianhe Zaobao is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year and launched its web portal,, yesterday.

In the two-hour session, Mr Lee spoke about the benefits and challenges posed by the transformation of the media landscape into one dominated by the Internet. He also spoke of Zaobao's international role in reflecting Singapore's take on events in China and North-east Asia, as well as its domestic role in balancing the transmission of Chinese culture and values, and the paper's position in a multi-racial and multi-ethnic society.

New media offers benefits in its ability to transmit information quickly, bring together friends and families who are physically apart, and organise people in support of causes.

But there are challenges, seen firstly in criminal activity such as hacking, which recently brought down some websites not just in Singapore but around the region.

Cyberbullying is also a growing problem, as well as "trolling" - abusive remarks found in online discussion forums, often by strangers hiding under the guise of anonymity.

"We must fight back against trolling, and provide a safe, responsible online environment which promotes constructive participation," he said. He added that the government's feedback arm, Reach, will from mid-December require users to log in before they can participate in discussions.

Mr Lee also fielded questions on a range of topics on journalism, bilingualism and his own experience with new media.

"I feel there's value in new media," he said. "Through Facebook, I can directly transmit my thoughts to netizens. But there are limitations . . . the post about the owl (in the Istana) was the most successful. I got 500,000 views. If I can get 200,000 views on a post on economic development and productivity, I would be happy."

Web framework, education 'should be in tandem'
MPs, observers weigh in on moves to ensure constructive discussion online
By Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2013

AS SINGAPORE moves to widen the space for constructive discourse online through regulations and new laws, these must come in tandem with public education on Internet engagement norms, say media observers and MPs.

"Hacking, social media, and technology are all part and parcel of the new landscape," said Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information, yesterday.

"We need to talk about it in schools and make it part of the education system, for instance, how to use social media well and effectively, and that hacking is wrong."

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, vice-chairman of the same GPC, agreed that education on the dangers was an effective tool.

He also pointed to websites like Factually, run by the Government, as useful in countering misinformation online.

Their comments come after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last Friday that Singapore is in the midst of harmonising new media rules to bring them in line with those for mainstream media.

From next month, to combat trolling - the phenomenon where discussions degenerate into abuse - netizens who comment on the Government's feedback arm REACH will need to register.

Mr Baey, who was from the media industry but is now a full-time MP, stressed that the Government has made it clear the new rules are "not about clamping down on dissent and alternative opinions".

Still, Singapore Internet Research Centre director Ang Peng Hwa pointed to South Korea's experience as an example of how removing total anonymity in online discussions may deter well-meaning users from contributing.

He described how there was no significant drop in the amount of negative content after the country passed a law in 2007 requiring Internet users to provide their names before posting on websites with more than 100,000 visitors.

The law was ruled as unconstitutional last year.

Professor Ang said: "The main concern is that the good guys who have genuine contributions will fear speaking up because anonymity was removed."

Yet, even Internet giants such as Google and Facebook have adopted such "real-name" policies for some services. Last year, China also passed a law requiring people to disclose their real names when signing up for websites.

In Singapore, a survey by REACH last month showed support for the need for legislation to be beefed up to deal with the challenges of the Internet age.

The survey of about 1,000 Singapore residents showed that more than eight in 10 were in favour of tougher measures to deal with harassment, both online and offline.

The same proportion also supported empowering courts to order online comments removed if they cause distress or alarm.

Lawyer Bryan Tan from Pinsent Masons MPillay suggested laws that will allow the authorities to "cut and treat" - by giving them power to remove offensive content quickly and refer cyber bullies for mandatory counselling.

Mr Zaqy said enforcement efforts and muscle had to be enhanced in tandem.

"We will need our enforcement departments to be staffed with more people and technology to pursue the cases."

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