This “crisis mentality” imbued by our leaders has deep roots. Since young, we are taught that Singapore is but a small country, a tiny red dot in fact, in a big world. Let countries like the United States have their protests and their unrests; they’re like an aircraft carrier which can afford to be rocked. But we’re a mere sampan, easily capsized.
These efforts at maintaining order have resulted in a strait-laced society, one which is just beginning to loosen up due to the unprecedented freedom in expression brought about by the Internet.
And just as how pendulums have a tendency to swing from one extreme to the other before settling to equilibrium, the cyberspace in Singapore is seeing a pull from a history of tightly-controlled and carefully-edited media to a total say-what-you-want environment, which has resulted in more than a few illogical rants, shaky logic and narrow-minded analyses.
This naturally has the authorities worried, as there is a real possibility of this sampan capsizing should tensions run too high and chaos spill over into the real world.
But a code of conduct will serve no purpose here. The Internet is too fragmented. The government cannot expect us to trawl through the hundreds if not thousands of pages created each day and then get all bloggers of “proper conduct” to come down against those errant ones.
So the more pertinent issue, in my view, is how we can propound the virtues of critical thinking and self-formulation of opinion instead of attempting to curb the posting of low-quality content on the Internet, because there is no way one can stop the latter.
As Vint Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the Internet, said:
“…the power of the Internet is like a two-edged sword. It can also deliver misinformation and uncorroborated opinion with equal ease. The thoughtful and the thoughtless co-exist side by side in the Internet's electronic universe.”
Self-regulation is only possible if information consumers are able to see the difference between a well-thought out opinion and a flimsy one. Netizens have to learn to be as properly skeptical about the stuff they read on the Internet as they do on the mainstream media.
This is particularly important, as we choose what we want to read on the Internet, as opposed to a bunch of journalists and editors who pick the best stories for us. This subjects one to “confirmation bias”, where we continually reinforce our own beliefs without staying open to others because we keep seeking out the same type of information.
This effect will, of course, be amplified by social media, as our like-minded friends can serve to further strengthen our biases through the sharing of related blog posts or articles.
The solution, therefore, is not to embark on a futile campaign to control the posting of content. We should instead be championing critical thinking. Let us advocate the careful evaluation of each and every article posted, and allow the good ones to shine while relegating the terrible ones to the deep recesses of cyberspace.
But of course, this is the Internet which allows every sort of opinion to find its own audience. However, as thinking people, we can all attempt to even out the space for debate and try to ensure the reasonable and logical articles with excellent perspectives flourish.
We should also speak up against bad practices to discourage others from engaging in similar undesirable habits. Influential personalities, in particular, should shoulder this responsibility. This, in my opinion, is what self-regulation is all about.
I end with another quote by Vint Cerf:
“Here is an opportunity to educate us all. We truly must think about what we see and hear. We must evaluate and select. We must choose our guides. What better lesson than this to teach our young children to prepare them for a new century of social, economic and technological change? “Let us make a new Century resolution to teach our children to think more deeply about what they see and hear. That, more than any electronic filter, will build a foundation upon which truth can stand.”