Monday 2 December 2013

Trolls dont scare Baey away from cyberspace

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, 43, is one of the few PAP politicians embraced by local netizens. He tells Rachel Chang it's not just his selfies but his willingness to engage, in the face of criticism and trolling, that has helped him in cyberspace. But new online media regulations give him a sense that the Government disagrees with this approach.
The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2013

The Government's move this year to require news websites to be licensed, and more recently to require people to register to post on its REACH feedback forum have been criticised as attempts to rein in free speech online. Do you agree?

I think, in terms of cyber bullying and hacking, the penalties will increase and most people support that. What is more tricky is the signals the Government is giving. The news website licensing is essentially about taking down things that violate certain rules within a certain timeframe. As a principle, that makes sense. Registration on REACH, that's just about using your Facebook account to comment. It's not about asking for IC numbers and all that. It's no big deal.

But if it's no big deal, then why do it?

The problem is that there is a signal that you are regulating, making it more difficult for people to express their views. And this is where the Government needs to look at what is the real substance - in terms of control and better order - that you are achieving, versus the negative repercussions among netizens. This is where we have to weigh it more sensitively.

From the Government's perspective, I think it's not about clamping down on dissenting views. It hopes that the impact is in getting people to be more accountable for their views and so be more responsible.

If everything you say online reflects your real views, that's fine. But trolling is creating an illusion that the whole world thinks in a certain way, and blowing up sentiments that are not actually widely held views. That is unhealthy.

What the Government is probably trying to achieve is to rein it in a little so it becomes a friendlier space for people to feel comfortable. So those who want to say good things about the Government will feel comfortable enough to say so.

We want the online space to reflect more accurately what the public is thinking. Now, it is too tilted towards one side.

Some would argue that the mainstream media is too tilted towards the pro-Government side, so the online space is just balancing that out.

I agree. The nature of social media allows people to be more daring and upfront. No matter the rules in place, it will always be so, and will always be more liberal and open compared to print and broadcast media. I welcome that.

I don't think the online space will ever be calm. That is the nature of the medium and really it would be a pity if we only hear one side. If it reaches that stage it's quite sad, because it's such a good opportunity for us to capture what's happening in coffee shops, among taxi drivers. Of course, how I analyse it is one thing, but at least I have access to it.

Will the requirement to register to use the REACH website just cause traffic to plummet? That is, is it futile to try and regulate cyberspace?

My own view is to ignore the trolls. I have my own objectives. Through my social media efforts, I want people to know what I think, what I do. If you don't buy it, that's fine. I believe most people are rational. I must have that confidence that people can discern, make their own judgment.

The Government probably doesn't take that view now. They think we can still protect people, what they read, what they access. It's just different starting points.

Is there another approach it can take besides more regulations and attempts to moderate?

We need to amplify the voice of the Government in the Internet space. Right now it's still quite small, and people are transitioning from dealing with mainstream media to social media.

It is about the style, the way outreach and engagement is done. Ultimately, social media is just a neutral platform. How you use it is up to you.

I personally find it very useful for me to connect to people, have some influence over what people know and think, and advocate for certain causes. The Government can also do that, although, of course, it's on a much bigger scale.

I feel that if the Government is more present in social media, the voice and the messaging is there, in a way that is easily accepted and digested by the community, that to me is the more proactive and sustainable way. Because you cannot rein in things, you just have to increase your outreach.

So the Government's attitude towards cyberspace is different from yours?

That's no secret. Probably, now there is a divergence. But I must also say that I am more progressive and liberal so I don't see myself as the benchmark.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong created a buzz when he said last week that people who are content don't have time to go online, those who are unhappy will complain online. He said the Government needs to understand these views and interpret them objectively.

To be fair to the PM, I don't think he reads all the comments, as he has thousands. I don't know how he is being briefed but probably his staff highlight to him the things that need his attention and those might be more the negative comments. That could be a reason that he thinks this. I'm speculating.

But for me, I don't think so. Of course you must have a certain sense of humour to accept certain nasty things online. But if you make the effort to build that kind of community, people become familiar with what you stand for, what you are consistently doing, I think that community can help as well.

PM Lee also said he is flameproof and he's right that you must be thick-skinned. When my whole selfies thing came out, there was criticism. Some like it, some don't, but over time, people will see it's not just about selfies. There's a message, too.

There will be segments who think that I'm trivialising the role of the MP. So I must have that gumption. In the long run, it's good for me and I do feel that I'm on the right path.

Turning to the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE), your wife actually wrote a play about how your oldest daughter's classmates could not make it to her birthday party because they had tuition and enrichment classes.

That happened last year, which was her PSLE year. Her birthday was in April! I don't think that should be the way things are. In fact, this year, we were quite heartened to see a change. For my youngest daughter whose birthday is in October, quite a few turned up. But she is in Primary 3.

Your kids don't have tuition. How do you resist joining the "arms race"?

I did consider it for my eldest daughter. At one point, she was in Primary 5, and I was falling into the trap of concerned parents and the T-score. We know that you can score in mathematics to bring your overall score up. And maths is my responsibility, my wife is in charge of languages. But I don't have much time at home, so I thought, I would outsource it. But my wife was very against it.

My daughter is doing well, above average, she said. Not top of the class, but good enough. My wife also checked with the teachers and they don't recommend it. They said tutors actually interfere with their pace of teaching.

So I gave in to my wife and in hindsight we are happy we made that decision. Without tuition, my children are more independent and take it upon themselves that it's their role to understand what they learn in school.

What's for supper

Coffee shop at Block 476, Tampines Street 44
- Chrysanthemum tea: 90 cents
- Milo: $1.10
- Total: $2

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