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Feb 10, 2009

Online attacks: Minister rues lack of self-policing

When MP Seng Han Thong was set on fire by a Yio Chu Kang resident last month, he drew many online attacks that were vicious.

Some were ‘downright outrageous’, said Senior Minister of State (Information, Communications and the Arts) Lui Tuck Yew in Parliament yesterday.

He was referring to postings that included statements saying Mr Seng deserved to be assaulted and a list of 10 things he should ‘be thankful for’ in spite of being attacked.

But instead of silencing these attackers, the online community largely bit their tongue.

The tepid response of netizens to the nasty comments disappointed Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui, who said it was ‘quite apparent the Internet is not an effective self-regulated regime as some may have touted it to be’.

RADM Lui was replying to Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), who had asked for his views on netizens’ response to the physical attack on Mr Seng, MP for Yio Chu Kang.

He said: ‘I do not think the community itself has done enough to rebut some of these unhelpful comments delivered by fellow netizens.

‘It is a squandered opportunity for a higher degree of self-regulation.It would have been an example of the genesis, of the first steps, towards a more responsible, greater, self-regulatory regime.

‘But many of those responses were not rebutted or answered, and I think it is not healthy for some of this to remain on the Net unchallenged, unquestioned and unanswered.’

RADM Lui also urged netizens to do more to define acceptable online conduct.

Ms Low noted that netizens had voted quite unjustly in an online poll.

The poll posted on had asked who deserved more sympathy: Mr Seng or his attacker Ong Kah Chua. The ex-cabby received 200 votes and Mr Seng, 56.

RADM Lui noted that there were some comments sympathetic to Mr Seng.

But, he added: ‘The vast majority were unhelpful, a significant number were unkind, a small number were downright outrageous.

‘It was disappointing.’

Madam Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC) related how sometimes, positive comments her friends wanted to make on some political sites were rejected, and asked how such sites could be open to all.

Said RADM Lui: ‘I don’t think we want to establish a regime where we regulate and direct the proprietors of the sites to take measures where they have to accept all comments.’

Ms Low had earlier asked him whether local netizens were mature enough to enter a self-regulated online regime and how such a regime could be developed.

RADM Lui said his ministry had not done any studies to assess their maturity level, and added: ‘It would be quite apparent the Internet is not an effective self-regulated regime as some may have touted it to be.’

Rumours and lies were prevalent online, as were flaming and cyber bullying, thus netizens had a critical role to play, he said.

‘Individual bloggers ought to be responsible and accountable in their postings. Website proprietors and the online contributors must be responsible and prompt in moderating the sites to ensure credibility, objectivity and balance in the content posted,’ he said.

‘Netizens can and should do more to establish and enforce the norms of acceptable online behaviour.’

Source: Straits Times, February 6, 2009



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