29.9.05

Giving blogging a bad name

"I'll tell you what's walking Salem --- vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!"
--- Arthur Miller, The Crucible
It doesn't take a genius to figure out The Straits Times's latest anti-blogging agenda. One might argue that it dates back to the declaration that the first Singapore bloggers conference was "One big YAWN", although it seemed to vacillate for several months, featuring a sprinkling of local bloggers in its weekly Digital Life supplement and running the usual public relations-friendly reports on the interschool blogging competition. (Admittedly, it also gave airtime to Sunday columnist Sumiko Tan's exhortation, "See no evil, blog no evil" (July 31).)

Since the results of the interschool blogging competition were announced to polite applause on September 9, the headlines have taken a far more tumultuous turn. To wit:
  • "2 charged with making racist remarks on Net" by Chong Chee Kin (September 13)
  • "Third person accused of racist comments on Net" by Chong Chee Kin (September 17)
  • "Online activism? Root out those spewing intolerance" by Paul Jacob (September 17)
  • "Blogging's catching on, but beware of the pitfalls" by Andy Ho (September 19)
  • "Court date looms for charged bloggers"(September 22)
  • "Schools need balanced view on student blogs", a reader's letter by Jonathan Au Yong Kok Kong (September 26), which on hindsight seems to have merely been preparing the ground for ---
  • "Schools act against students for 'flaming' teachers on blogs", by Sandra Davie and Liaw Wy-Cin (September 27)
  • And today's latest gem, "Porn? No, blogs bug me more" by Carl Skadian (September 28).
The first two headlines were arguably tagged to reports of a more factual nature, informing the public --- as is this national broadsheet's arrogated responsibility --- of an historic invocation of a Sedition Act that had not been dusted off in at least ten years. But the subsequent headlines served only to fan public paranoia about blogging and spook the average non-blog-reading Singaporean about blogs. Bloggers are being systematically demonized as subversive, incendiary and irresponsible, rebels without a cause or a conscience.

I don't mind being characterised as subversive --- I am a teacher, after all, and education at heart ought to be subversive --- but most blogs are too solipsistic to be incendiary, at least, not on the level that, say, a national publication with a daily circulation of almost 400,000 could command attention and drive public opinion. As for irresponsible, anyone who's had their blog discovered, quoted or linked without their explicit permission knows just how much weight a blogged opinion can carry and how far it can travel on its own wings. Any blogger with a maturity level exceeding a five-year-old playground bully knows very damn well how responsible s/he is for anything published or circulated on the web --- not just blogs, but comments on others' blogs, emails, forum postings and so on.

Indeed, I don't care about being demonized at a personal level because I know why I blog and why I read blogs, and my blog speaks for itself. What incenses me is that the current wave of negative publicity could lead to two equally ominous outcomes.

The first possibility: a witchhunt that mindlessly seeks signs of the devil in the sinner, i.e. any affiliation or interest in blogs, regardless of the quality of the particular blogs themselves. Some bloggers --- innocent though they are of sedition, subversiveness, incendiarism or irresponsible comments --- may find this threatening because it presumes some measure of deviancy in a person, merely by the fact of some association with blogging and/or bloggers. We are all tarred with the same brush, even though I am as different from Rockson who is as different from jseng who is as different from raining-noodles. Stereotyping, as we all know, is bad.

But stereotyping founded on pure ignorance is even worse. And that's why it's the second possibility that I find more disturbing: the proliferation of an irrational (in the sense of not being founded on anything personally experienced) antipathy for blogs and any other internet innovations. Is anyone who reads The Straits Times but doesn't read blogs likely to ever try the latter, based on the current trajectory of Straits Times editorializing? I don't think they would be, and their lives would be the poorer for it.

I'm not sanctifying blogs as discourse par excellence, but it's indisputable that the beauty of blogging lies in its democratizing of opinions and information. Anyone can, with little technical knowledge or expense, easily set up and maintain a blog, disseminating their views and ideas to a theoretically unlimited audience. It's not just big corporations like Singapore Press Holdings (parent company of The Straits Times) that have a direct line to the public. Anyone does, with the right tools and tricks, and our world is the richer for it.

When I first ventured onto the internet just as HTML was taking root, the internet blew my mind. More than ten years on, it still blows my mind, what I can find on the internet --- the good, the bad and the ugly. In the movie Contact, an alien character observes of humankind, "You're capable of such beautiful dreams ... and such horrible nightmares." We can't obliterate the ugliness and the nightmares --- if we were to try, one of the first things we'd have to go after are our local afternoon tabloids --- but we can create room for dreams and beauty to blossom, and for people to find their voice.

Of course, this being Singapore, not everyone is interested in expanding that space for public discussion and robust exchange. I can only imagine what excoriating headline will greet me in The Straits Times tomorrow, now that the first two individuals charged under the Sedition Act have submitted guilty pleas to the court. But bloggers have the advantage over other demonized groups in that they can write back (and have, see "Recommended reading" below). Some write well, others less so, but all are in the process of articulating an opinion and engaging in a written jab-and-thrust, dodge-and-parry that few other environments truly offer.

And if that makes demons and witches of us all, so be it.

With thanks to From A Singapore Angle, e pur si muove, But Why Did Mr Wang Say So? and Tomorrow for their archives on Straits Times coverage.

Edited (7:23 am) to change the blog post title because I wasn't entirely happy with the original ("The Straits Times just doesn't get it"). Who says bloggers don't edit and further ruminate on their writing even after it's been published?

Recommended reading:

Responses to Carl Skadian's piece today

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8 Comments:

At 9/29/2005 5:17 am , Blogger Huichieh said...

Trackback. Hope you don't mind.

 
At 9/29/2005 9:27 am , Anonymous ex-teacher said...

Bravo, TYM! I hope the journalist in question reads your posting. Maybe I'm clueless about blogs in general (I don't actually read that many) but I did wonder why the ones he reads are filled with 'vitriol', irresponsible, etc. I have not actually personally read any such blog, though I have read ABOUT them (from ST articles, no less!). And I think I have a pretty harmless blog myself...

 
At 9/29/2005 10:07 am , Blogger mis_nomer said...

Wow. I agree with you. Great post.

 
At 9/29/2005 10:39 am , Blogger Cowboy Caleb said...

Alright!

You da woman!

 
At 9/29/2005 11:20 am , Blogger Agagooga said...

It’s quite obvious what the ST is doing, isn’t it? You don’t have to be a believer in conspiracy theories to see what all the blog-bashing, with nary a counterpoint, is for.

Meanwhile, the many who take the ST as gospel, like my parents, have no idea about the other side of the equation.

We are all frauds, liars, cheats and political gangsters now.

 
At 9/29/2005 12:18 pm , Blogger fortycalibernap said...

it's a compelling, well-spoken post, whether one lives in Singapore or no.

i'll disagree only with your implication about ugliness and nightmares . . . i happen to believe they're absolutely necessary, if only to give form and validity to beauty and dreams.

hate stands as the pole to love, energizing it and providing definition -- and i love the tone of vital idealism you've carried here.

 
At 9/29/2005 4:58 pm , Blogger zeenie said...

Excellent post! Ranks up there with Mr Wang, Xeno boy and the rest.

 
At 9/29/2005 7:30 pm , Blogger xenoboysg said...

Tym,

As long as there remains teachers like yourself, there will be posssibilities for change.

The ovation is returned, with Respect.

 

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