Friday, 30 March 2012

Netizen activism

An interesting development is taking place in Singapore on the use or rather abuse of social media in expressing one's thoughts and feelings online.

First is the case of Mr Sun Xu, 25, a Chinese undergrad scholarship holder at the National University of Singapore (NUS), was fined $3,000 by the university and ordered to complete three months of community service. His crime? He posted derogatory remarks about Singaporeans on a blog and did so while he was on Singapore government scholarship.

Shortly after Mr. Sun's case, another student, Ms Shimun Lai of Nanyang Polytechnic, had a screenshot of a racially offensive tweet that insulted indians, re-posted.

This time netizens, majority of whom were non-Indians expressed their outrage online. It is not clear whether the polytechnic will take action against Ms. Lai's post but at least one police report has been lodged against her by a citizen stating he was doing so as 'any good citizen' would.

What we're witnessing here is an example of online activism by users of social media. Mr. Sun's case may be different from Ms. Lai's in that he published his thoughts for all and sundry to see. Ms. Lai published her views to a private group of friends, one of whom decided to take a screenshot and re-published this for the world to see.

Ms. Lai has since gone into hiding by deactivating her twitter and Facebook accounts, probably driven by the abuse she was getting online.

Questions are being raised in the media on whether all this 'verbal lynching' is justified and whether netizens are too quick in crying 'foul' seeking justice.

Well, a derogatory remark made privately is definitely not the same as publishing it online- where all can see. Such remarks have consequences and if it crosses the line into something criminal, serious repercussions will be the result.

Closer to home, Mr. Adi Adip Mohamad, 28, was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to charges of outraging the modesty of his ex by uploading obscene pictures and videos of his ex performing sexual acts on Facebook.

Mr. Adi's motive was probably to spite his ex-girlfriend after breaking up with her. What is startling is that recipients of the photos and video did not appear to have taken a stand to chastise him nor was a police report lodged by any of the recipients - quite unlike the situation in Singapore.

Further, Mr. Sun was taken to task by the university, not the police.

That's not to say that Brunei netizens take no action when they see something wrong online. Numerous complaints were posted online when photos of accident victims were recklessly uploaded on Facebook causing distress to the victim's families and friends. But this action seems to be the exception rather the rule here.

The few lessons to be learnt by these cases:
1. You are responsible for what you posted on line, even if you intended it as a private 'chat';

2. Netizens do and can take action against you and it's not just up to law enforcement agencies anymore;

3. It's better to be responsible, rather than be sorry later - the consequences may be more serious than you think.;

Brunei netizens have some way to go in online self regulation but I think it's only a matter of time.

Till then, be safe online.

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