A few weeks ago, I was invited to BlogTV.SG – a talkshow on Channel News Asia – to discuss the influence of socio-political websites, and share my perspectives on whether online writers should remain anonymous. Not surprisingly, this episode – and its corresponding theme – was primarily inspired after the controversy over The (New) Temasek Review; and I thought it was appropriate for me to share from my capacity as a considerably young socio-political writer. As follows are some of the major points we had discussed, and here are my after-thoughts from the engaging session.
What are the influences of political writing on the Internet; and what are the corresponding responsibilities of these pieces of works? Political websites serve as alternative news sources which are convenient and accessible; more importantly, they provide varying perspectives in the form of commentaries and policy recommendations. These online platforms are also constructive for discourse and discussion, and for the general populace to provide criticisms to the administration. In the final stage, credible online clout would empower the editors to synthesis online and offline efforts, developing greater advocacy and activism in the real world (airing concerns at the Speaker’s Corner, conversing with on-the-ground individuals et cetera).
With these roles, it is important that these pieces of work are credible and perspective-driven. The latter is crucial because if a website merely regurgitates or copies information from another source, there is no value-add to the pool of knowledge. Online writers should be cognisant of acknowledging their sources as they delve into policy recommendations or constructive criticisms and proposals.
Do you think socio-political bloggers should be given anonymity? How credible is anonymous writing? Yes. For me, the content is key; and it is the message over the messenger. Take this for instance: would you readily dismiss a piece of good writing just because it is anonymous? Along the same tangent, no educated individual would readily take information at face-value or for granted just because there is a name attached to it. The onus is very much on the reader to determine whether a piece of writing should be taken seriously, as credibility can be evaluated based on an assortment of elements: from their archives, readers’ comments, what others are saying et cetera.
However, the line is crossed when bloggers resort to vitriol, and degenerate their articles into unconstructive diatribes that are have the potential to be derogatory and inflammatory. Ultimately, the bottom-line is that we should not be quick to generalise anonymous bloggers, and judge the material for what it really is.
Why do some individuals or writers choose not to reveal their identities? First, some individuals might be in the civil service, a line of profession that has its own set of guidelines and regulations in terms of political writing online. Second, private employers might not be comfortable with the idea of activism on the Internet, especially when a majority of the material on the World Wide Web is anti-establishment in nature. Family and friends can also be slightly conservative in thinking. Pseudonyms can be a form of creative expression, which allows writers to be less inhibited in their writing styles.
With identities, the problem with prejudice might also surface. Paul Krugman is a liberal economist who writes online and offline for the International Herald Tribune; and his columns are equally critical of the Bush and Obama Administration, Republicans and Democrats alike. However, a lot of the conservatives and ultraconservatives who leave comments on his blog often deviate away from the content, and make ad hominem attacks on Krugman. Under such circumstances, substantive debate gives way to petty bickering and unconstructive attacks.
Why is The (New) Temasek Review so popular with many Singaporeans? There are genuinely good articles on the website, and has tremendous potential as a platform for discourse and discussion. Mr. Eugene Tan phrases it best when he calls these “echo chambers”, in which disgruntled and struggling Singaporeans find a sense of connectivity with many of the challenges and problems highlighted, in terms of paying the bills, struggling with unemployment et cetera. Many of these concerns may sound trivial and on-the-ground, but it has snowballed into quite a significant force of displeasure and unhappiness.
What are the reasons behind your decision to reveal your identity? Besides the personal comfort, I write primarily on education issues: in terms of my unhappiness with our over-emphasis on an examination system, sub-par community service programme, and so on and so forth. It is definitely more advantageous for me to relate to my personal experiences (given that I have just graduated from the system), and it helps to bring my points across more cogently.