Friday 20 February 2015

The Real Singapore in trouble over inflammatory posts

Remarks over Thaipusam event on TRS site could promote ill will: Police
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh And Amir Hussain, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2015

TWO persons believed to be behind socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) have been arrested under the Sedition Act for inflammatory postings related to a recent incident during the Thaipusam procession.

Police said in a statement yesterday that they have arrested a 26-year-old Chinese Singaporean man and a 22-year-old Australian woman for posting remarks online "that could promote ill will and hostility among the different races in Singapore".

They did not further identify the duo, who are out on bail.

But The New Paper reported yesterday that they are Ms Ai Takagi and her boyfriend Robin Yang Kai Heng, who were spotted leaving the Police Cantonment Complex on Monday.

They are believed to be two of the site's founders.

TRS wrote on its site yesterday that one of its editors involved in the running of the site had been called up for investigations by police, along with four others.

It added that "she is currently cooperating fully with the police".

The arrests were prompted by a Feb 4 article on TRS alleging that a Filipino family's complaint over noise from drummers led to a scuffle during the Thaipusam procession on Feb 3.

Three Singaporeans were later charged over disorderly behaviour.

But the article's original writer reportedly distanced herself from the published version.

Police said yesterday that they received reports on Feb 5 about an "insensitive article" online. After extensive checks, they identified the suspects, who were arrested the next day.

If found guilty under the Sedition Act, a first-time offender can be fined up to $5,000 or jailed for up to three years, or both.

"Police take a stern view of acts that could threaten social harmony in Singapore. Any person who posts remarks online that could cause ill will and hostility between the different races or communities in Singapore will be dealt with in accordance with the law," added the police.

In the aftermath of the scuffle during Thaipusam, videos of the incident were circulated by netizens, who raised questions over the ban on music during the procession that has been in place since 1973.

Yesterday, TRS said it will post "a full story" some time in the future. It added that this might include how the site works and who is behind it, but "currently, as investigations are ongoing, such a full response would be inappropriate".

TRS is known to carry articles that hit out at various aspects of Singapore society, painting a bleak picture of it, with some postings said to fan xenophobia.

But TRS said investigations are focused on the Thaipusam article, and no other articles are coming under scrutiny at the moment.

The arrests are the latest case of individuals being taken to task for seditious online content in nearly two years.

The previous known case of sedition over online postings was when cartoonist Leslie Chew was arrested in April 2013 for an online comic strip about how a government suppressed its Malay population. After investigations, the Attorney-General's Chambers decided to take no further action.

TRS was founded in 2012 but has remained tight-lipped about those behind it. One founder is systems engineer Alex Tan, who told The Straits Times in 2013 that he started the site with a couple he had never met, but whom he believed lived in Australia.

The couple had identified themselves to him as Yang Kaiheng and Ai Takagi, Mr Tan had said.


Any person who posts remarks online that could cause ill will and hostility between the different races or communities in Singapore will be dealt with in accordance with the law.

- Police

Questions over foreign students behind site
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2015

QUESTIONS were raised yesterday about the key players behind a website which puts up spoof news knocking Singapore. The Real Singapore (TRS) is said to be headed by an Australian-Japanese student with the help of others from Malaysia and one man from Singapore and, among other things, has taken a hard line against foreigners.

A recent post, which sparked a police investigation, alleged that the Thaipusam procession scuffle stemmed from a Filipino family's complaint.

In the past, it has warned against "humanizing" some foreign workers. It also asked for the number of Filipinos in Singapore to be reduced.

TRS has gained notoriety since it was set up in 2012, and has been accused of plagiarism, fabricating stories, and publishing unverified content.

It has also shied away from making the identities of its key players known. Although the site adopts the tagline "Voices of average Singaporeans", and purports to push the idea of putting Singaporeans above foreigners, few realise that it is not run by Singaporeans, but some foreign students.

A website set up in 2013, The Real Singapore Exposed, has tried to establish the identities of TRS' key players. Among the screenshots on the site was that of a post on the TRS Facebook account in 2012, signed off by an Ai Takagi who called herself chief editor.

Photos of Ms Takagi, and contact details and photos of Mr Robin Yang Kai Heng, were also posted on the site.

Posts on the HardwareZone forum suggested that the couple are studying at the University of Queensland.

On its site, TRS stressed it is not funded by any political organisations or companies, but draws its income from advertising. A New Paper report yesterday said that the students involved had "bragged to their families about the income they had been generating" from their site.

It said the site is hosted in Switzerland, the United States and Sweden. Its servers are "located in a remote and secure location in order to provide our readers with secure browsing".

TRS has also come under fire for publishing articles without verifying information.

In June 2013, an article criticising the Government's actions during the haze went up on TRS, and was attributed to Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng, who did not write it. She filed a police report over it.

The 3 uni students behind TRS website bragged to families about income they received from online venture
By Catherine Robert, Azim Azman, Melvin Singh, The New Paper, 18 Feb 2015

It claimed that a family from the Philippines had sparked the exchange and subsequent arrest of three men during the recent Thaipusam incident.

But that Feb 4 article posted on sociopolitical website The Real Singapore (TRS) has now landed two people in serious trouble.

The Japanese-Australian administrator of the site, Miss Ai Takagi, and her Singaporean boyfriend, Mr Robin Yang Kai Heng, who handles the financials, have been arrested for posting remarks online that could promote ill will and hostility among the different races in Singapore.

They are on bail.

The third person linked to TRS, a Malaysian who calls herself Melanie Tan, has not been arrested and is believed to be in Australia.

The site had allegedly embellished the article to fan xenophobia. The New Paper understands police are investigating an act of sedition.

The site has been accused in the past and in the February article of fanning hatred of foreigners.

The TRS post had carried the lines: "I think what started the incident was a complaint by a Pinoy family with a young child who is crying which caused the parents to tell the police to make the people stop playing the urumi as it is causing the child to cry.

"Shortly afterward, the SPF (Singapore Police Force) and auxiliary police force descended upon the drummer."

The Feb 3 incident allegedly did involve the playing of an urumi, an Indian drum.

But no Philippine family was involved.

The original writer of the article distanced herself from the TRS version of her letter and even took to posting on her Facebook page denying she had mentioned a "Pinoy" family.

Officers from the Special Investigation Section at the Criminal Investigation Department then hunted down the people behind the website.

Enough people knew of the brains behind TRS. Online sites had even offered the trio's mobile numbers and pictures.

They had made many enemies in cyberspace who accused them in the past of plagiarising their articles.

But the three university students had also bragged to their families about the income they had been generating from the online venture.


While Mr Yang, 26, and Miss Takagi, 22, were in Singapore in the last two weeks, police arrested them.

Residents at Block 352A, Canberra Road, witnessed the couple being led by police to their flat at the same block.

A resident said it happened soon after the Feb 4 posting.

The police were seen taking a number of items, including computers.

Although the site is hosted overseas, police here have jurisdiction because the article was posted here while the two were in Singapore.

Miss Takagi is a law student. Mr Yang is also a student at her university.

Yesterday, the couple were again summoned to the Police Cantonment Complex.

After a long wait, TNP spotted Mr Yang and Miss Takagi leaving the building together at around 6pm.

The accused were accompanied by two older men, one believed to be Mr Yang's father.

When TNP approached the younger man to ask about his role in the TRS site, he said: "Who told you I was involved in TRS?"

Miss Takagi declined comment when asked why a foreigner would fan xenophobia.

The Feb 3 incident during Thaipusam resulted in three Singaporean men being charged with various offences, including disorderly conduct and voluntarily causing hurt to a police officer.

Until now, aggrieved parties have not been able to take civil action against TRS because of the cloak of anonymity.

But all that may change with the police investigation, said criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam.

"If the people behind TRS are charged and convicted in court following the investigation, aggrieved parties can use that as a basis to take civil action against TRS if they have enough evidence," he said.


The Real Singapore (TRS), a sociopolitical website, has been accused by other sociopolitical websites and media organisations of lifting and using articles without permission.

It has also been accused of blatant plagiarism and fanning xenophobia.

The site also fabricated stories to gain eyeballs and released information that damaged individuals.

The website has about 412,000 followers on its Facebook page, which was registered in January 2012. Its Twitter site sees about 6,800 followers.

Sept 2014: Karaoke chain K Box's membership database was leaked online after a group of hackers who called themselves "The Knowns" sent an e-mail to TRS and other media informing them of the hack.

TRS reproduced a screen grab of the e-mail which showed a link to the leaked information on its website and on its Facebook page.

The information there included personal details including NRIC numbers, names and addresses.

June 2013: TRS carried an article, "PAP MP Irene Ng: We should not play the blame game over the haze problem", which it falsely attributed to Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC, Ms Irene Ng.

That prompted Ms Ng to file a police report in which she called the article "pure fiction".

"I did not write this article and have nothing to do with it," she told The Straits Times.

"Sad that the website allows the publication of such malicious forgeries in the name of an elected MP to deceive and mislead its readers."

Nov 2012: TRS posted an article claiming that Minister of Defence Ng Eng Hen had not delivered on a promise made in 2011 to publish a list of full-time national servicemen who were given permission to defer their national service for their university studies.

The article was defamatory.

Although TRS posted an apology after it was sent lawyers' letters, it then posted additional comments on the matter and allowed users to post comments on the page.

The list was actually available on the Mindef website and is still there.

And the direction of the wind has changed.
Posted by on Sunday, February 28, 2016

TRS duo still out on bail in Singapore
By Catherine Robert, The New Paper, 4 Mar 2015

The two weeks' bail for Miss Ai Takagi, a Japanese-Australian, and Mr Robin Yang Kaiheng had expired.

But if the pair were hoping to return to their Brisbane apartment for their new university term, they were disappointed.

The New Paper understands that the students at the University of Queensland had their bail extended and their application to return to Australia rejected.

The couple again declined to speak to TNP but a relative, believed to be Mr Yang's father, spoke briefly.

The man, who stood at the foyer of the building while the two were inside, said cryptically: "Everybody has his own opinion."

Miss Takagi, 22, and Mr Yang, 26, are accused of embellishing a post on TRS.

TNP reported the duo's arrest in February and it was picked up by Japanese and Australian media.

An Australian law professor said the same post would likely have been deemed a crime in Australia too.

"The law says as long as somebody in Australia feels a public posting offends, insults, intimidates or humiliates a person because of their ethnicity, sex, disability or age, then there may be grounds for an investigation," said Mr Michael Crowley, senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University's School of Law and Justice.

And public postings include those on the Internet.

Australian Hate Speech laws apply even when the inciting of hatred is done abroad.

"For as long as the comment incites hate and an Australian is offended by the comment, then yes, a complaint - which may lead to legal action - can be made."

Cyber racism is classified as an act of racism under the Racial Discrimination Act, a legislation introduced in 1975.

Mr Crowley said: "If there are grounds to pursue the matter, a conciliation via the Australian Human Rights Commission could be the first resolution point. Otherwise, it can escalate to the courts."

But if action is taken in Singapore, they cannot face double jeopardy, he said.


Hate speech laws also exist in Canada, Britain and many parts of Europe.

Does Singapore need a law that polices hate speech?

Singapore Management University's (SMU) Associate Law Professor, Mr Eugene Tan, said: "The current legislative arsenal, from the Penal Code to the Sedition Act to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, is adequate to deal with hate speech."

Hate speech is presently policed by the Sedition Act, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (which monitors discussions relating to race and religion), and the Undesirable Publications Act.

The last Act deals with any person making unpleasant or offensive publication with regards to race or religion that is likely to cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill will or hostility between different racial or religious groups.

Mr Tan said: "Depending on the facts of the case and the severity of the transgression, the various laws enable the Attorney-General to calibrate the necessary enforcement action.

"It appears that the Sedition Act is used for more severe cases where the alleged hate speech promotes feelings of ill will and hostility between different racial, religious, or linguistic groups of Singapore."

The Act was first used on bloggers for racists posts in 2005.

Is Sedition too blunt a tool?

Mr Tan said: "Effectively, under the Sedition Act, there is a range of punishment that can be meted out depending on the severity of the offence, the offender and any mitigating circumstances."


Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan said: "These topics are sensitive to Singapore because race and religion are emotionally charged topics which could turn ugly quickly if people are not sensitive to the emotions of others.

"All you need is for a irresponsible person to fan the flames of unhappiness and things could get out of hand."

Mr Lars Voedisch, social media and international communications expert, said: "While anonymous sites can be seen as a platform for freedom of speech, where do we draw the line?

"You have to consciously juggle the concept of freedom of speech and draw the line where this freedom of speech starts to hurts others, especially when, editorially, basic checks are not made."

There has been much speculation online about how much TRS makes with its social media platform and website.

TNP learned that Miss Takagi recently bought an apartment in Brisbane.

Until their arrest, they operated anonymously and looked to be beyond the long arm of the law.

A new law in November has helped.

Mr Voedisch said: "The recent Protection from Harassment Act does help these victims take legal action against any party behind anonymous sites."

The Act protects victims by issuing a Protection Order that requires the harasser (such as the website administrator or publisher) to remove offensive material about the victim.

The Court can direct a notification to be published which alerts readers to false statements and bringing their attention to the facts.


The Real Singapore (TRS) posted an article on Feb 4 by a contributor claiming that a family from the Philippines sparked the exchange that led to the arrest of three men during the recent Thaipusam incident.

But no Filipino family was involved.

The contributor denied writing that a Filipino family was involved and later posted the claim on her Facebook.

TRS had allegedly embellished the original article.

Police arrested Miss Ai Takagi and Mr Robin Yang Kaiheng on Feb 17.

They were nabbed for posting remarks online that could promote ill will and hostility among the different races in Singapore.

A third person linked to TRS, a Malaysian who calls herself Melanie Tan, is believed to be in Australia and has not been arrested.

TNP understands that the duo are still on bail while investigations are ongoing.


Money is also earned when a reader clicks on an ad that is placed on the web page.

Online advertiser Khairul Azman, 28, says that 30,000 clicks on the ads can earn a site $15,000 monthly.

He explained: "If it costs advertisers $1.50 for every click they get on their ad, conservatively, you can expect the site that hosts the ad to earn 50 cents of the amount.

"However, the amount a website earns for hosting an ad varies from site to site." said the automated system used by website valuation tool has TRS earning US$7,918 (S$10,787) while claims TRS earns US$11,619 monthly.

Another similar site, MCJonline, claims TRS' monthly revenue is US$30,690.

The different sites base their findings on different aspects including the domain's age, amount of daily unique views, daily page views and search indexed pages.

The number of each is then applied to their own range of mathematical formulas to get the result.


Mr Khairul said: "Some sites gauge based on clicks while others gauge on views - it all differs based on varying mathematical algorithms."

The TRS Facebook page is clearer. It has over 412,625 followers and most use that as an entry point to the website.

In the quest for more numbers, some websites produce fake stories. Others just fake the number of followers they have.

In December, Instagram purged millions of followers, including those of celebrities, because it emerged some were fake accounts.

Social media and international communications expert, Mr Lars Voedisch, said of the fakes: "You are cheating the people who advertise with you and you're cheating readers to make it seem like you are more influential than you actually are."

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