The containment of ideas

It isn’t the first day that I am concerned with matters of the nation. Unlike the bulk of my peers, I thought it is interesting and important to think through policies and participate in the exchange of ideas. This is because politics is going to affect our daily lives. COE, ERP, HDB and the likes are the results of policies. It is also interesting that there are many smart people around with different ideas to improve existing systems.

But I just found it very frustrating. Sometimes I feel sad for Singapore. It is like we have a bunch of not very smart people who just like to band together as an anti-government force. The things that they say or do seem to be so extreme that it is hard to digest. There are a couple of sites there with alternating viewpoints. One of it is The Temasek Review, which is the source of my frustration. The other is The Online Citizen, which is a good site to read compared to The Temasek Review.

I find it laughable and pathetic when all some people do is band together to give shows of support. The things they say lack in content and substance, and are uttered by everyone before them. Grassroots leader found taking upskirt photos? PAP’s fault. Demand why PAP people thought he was a good leader before they found out about his crimes. The way they assign blame is absurd. How do you see if a person is a pervert before you catch him? Are they born with a certain look? Or pervert written on his face?

Next, NIE teacher found to have sex with 12 year old student. Clamour for education minister to step down. HUH? How is he personally accountable for ill-hires? You do not fire a CEO if the accounting assistant is found guilty of being a paedophile? And people then demand to know why such people are hired. The question remains, how would we know? The situation is already drastic. Most people do not want to become a teacher. The hours are long, you have to be assigned to a CCA, parents can scold you and you cannot touch the kids to punish them. And if you tighten the way they hire people, not only are you unable to guarantee no sex pervert will pass through, you’ll lose many potentially good teachers.

And the best thing is that the site that claims to be an unbiased source of news, and points it’s fingers to The Straits Times for being biased towards PAP, is itself biased. Claiming on Facebook it is time to focus attention on the most promising party and encourage voters to vote for it? Isn’t it becoming exactly like what it says of The Straits Times?

Who gave the website the moral authority to decide who to focus on anyway. I pointed out that this has high potential for abuse, but instead of realizing what a huge problem it is, people choose to say stupid things. My logic is warped? See the things I wrote in the past paragraphs and you’ll realize most Singaporeans have lousier logic than me.

The best thing is to say I’m a PAP troll. Classic move. It happens all the time. Someone is against you? Must be from the PAP. In my defence, I never saw a more warp-er logic, if such a word exists.

Which is why I think it is scary to remain in Singapore if such people go into power. With fingers pointing, they claim the ruling party lost touch with the population, yet they censure alternate ideas and brandish people as PAP if they have a different opinion as them. These self righteous people have become the very devil they seek to eradicate, right before they even had power. I shudder to think what will happen if people like them ever take over.

Hence if I were to recommend a website to read if anyone is interested in national issues, it would be The Online Citizen. For one, they censor articles and comments that do not contribute to any discussion about the topic, hence everything is done nicely and ideas are encouraged. Furthermore they did a very interesting thing. They gathered members of the different parties to come together and face the public in a Q&A session.

What made me more impressed was the quality of the article submissions. People are able to point out that the forum did not produce anything new. He noted something which I too noted. That the forum ended up being a place where people make cynical remarks about the PAP and then all the supporters clapping. It did nothing to improve the idea exchange or the creation of better policies. Exactly the same as The Temasek Review. A lot of noise but no content.

16 thoughts on “The containment of ideas

  1. Sorry I found this post so disagreeable I just had to object here.

    I hope you understand that the price you pay for freedom of speech and Internet freedom is that you will get rants. In fact if you get few of this, it’s likely that the board or website you’re posting on is heavily biased and censored with its own agenda. Is such a website worth reading? Take a good look at Daily Kos, Huffington Post, Free Republic, Red State blogs etc. What do all these have in common? People ranting irrationally ALL THE TIME. Is this really new to you? Don’t you realise that this is as common as Internet chatter? It’s not as though TOC doesn’t have as many of these.

    For the grassroots leader, did you realise that when the state-controlled media reported on it for the first time they omitted any reference to the fact he was a YPAP grassroots leader? By contrast each time an opposition figure or someone linked to the opposition gets negative coverage you can be sure their partisan affilation will be on display. Your professed hate site TR wrote a very good article on that here on the multiple standards of the media:

    But I suppose you won’t bother reading it because it’s a hate site that doesn’t have anything critical to contribute right?

    Secondly regarding TR’s reporting of NIE trainee, you deliberately omitted mentioning that there were readers on TR who who also objected to those who were “clamoring” for the education minister to step down? Hello? Why are you leaving out this important fact? Because it doesn’t fit in with your narrative that TR readers are parochial and incapable of rational critique?

    In fact for both issues you mention I could see that there were readers who took offence with those who sought to capitalise on the issue for political PAP bashing. Why aren’t you acknowledging their existence?

    One last point regarding TOC and TR. Reason why TR is more popular than TOC on the Internet is because TOC champions a lot of other Western liberal ideas people on the ground don’t quite care about. Did you realise there aren’t any anti-capital punishment campaigns on TR? Nor is there any anti-377A feature, nor anything on migrant workers. Unlike TOC, TR doesn’t focus on such issues. The average Singaporean cares more about growth in real median earnings, retirement funding, housing prices, foreign worker policy and the like and have no stomach for all these other issues. Hence both TOC and TR are very different websites. I would argue that TR is actually closer to what most of us actually care about. How many Singaporeans really object to the death penalty for drug offenders? Why doesn’t TR take up this issue?

    For censorship, you can bet TOC is somewhat masterful at censoring. They are willing to censor comments even if they contain valid criticism of the article. I had comments taken off TOC because they said they had a “zero tolerance” policy regarding personal attacks regardless or whether the comment addresses the article. As for TR, I’ve never had any contribution censored by them, even though each and every posted comment must be moderated by them.

    Take a good look at this blog

    TOC has been known to delete comments critical of it, regardless of content.

  2. Hi, thanks for commenting.

    I know no one can censor the internet, and hence rants are unavoidable. That’s alright. But what I was looking for, in my opinion and preference, was something more solid on top of pure ranting. I might as well read my own blog if I want to see ranting. I rant all the time, sometimes after doing so I get second thoughts and delete the post. Does this mean I cannot state my opinion that I dislike reading rants? Does this mean I cannot state my opinion that I feel more agreeable with TOC than TR? At least on initial glance TOC has lesser comments, and after reading the comments I could agree and think about alternating ideas. In TR, I see plenty of rants. Granted they are normal and usual. But what I want is to understand the situation better, to read something that makes me think “Oh. I didn’t know that”. This is my personal preference and I am entitled to it. Call it ranting if you want, in fact I do consider that I am ranting.

    I do not deny TR writes good articles occasionally, which is why I still do read TR. You make good argument about the omission of reference to the fact that he was a YPAP grassroots leader. This is what I would be happy to read about, not things like Mr Teo Ser Luck once saying that he is a good leader. I mean, you cannot logically fault him if he says his opinion without even knowing that that guy had committed such pervertic acts. But if any netizen or person can bring up proof to show otherwise, that would be a great post. Hence what I am talking about is with regards to very specific rants that make no logical sense, and not about whether the press in Singapore has multiple standards. I already know that opposition mistakes get highlighted repeatedly etc.

    And I still read TR, please don’t question me like that and assume so much of me. I just happen to feel that TOC has more articles I would read than TR. TR is doing a good job at providing news that doesn’t get much coverage in ST, but recently it is getting very clouded and I don’t like it. This is my opinion so do not assume so much to say I won’t bother reading it because it’s a hate site that doesn’t have anything critical to contribute.

    Next paragraph. TR’s reporting of NIE trainee. Deliberately omitted? What do you think this place is? ST? This is a personal blog and I admit I do not blog well. In fact this is a personal opinion and not a review. I know that there were readers sane enough to see the seriousness of each situation. But just look at the comments. Some readers objected vs most of the readers calling for blood without adding much substantiated content? Did I say ALL TR readers are incapable of rational critique? I did not did I?

    I do not understand your anger. If you think ranting is perfectly acceptable, and my opinion is too harsh on TR, and is unfair, then why are you judging my rant? I am ranting too because of frustration, and you have to be all serious and accusatory? Yes I know there are readers who took offence etc etc for political PAP bashing etc, but those are few and far between. When you look at the comments and find 70% of them not really contributing to the discussion at hand, are you going to read every comment? Readers are going to evaluate based on impression, and that’s what I am saying. Based on my impression, TR doesn’t seem that good a site to me compared to TOC?

    About TOC and TR, I don’t really care who is more popular. Does it truly matter? As you said, TR doesn’t really censor, and TOC does. This alone provides TR as a great avenue for rants and a mechanism to destress. Furthermore, people like to group with others with the same opinions. Rant together. Call for the minister to resign together. It feels good when there is someone else thinking the same way. Isn’t that true?

    You are right about the difference between TOC and TR. In fact, perhaps in my point of view, I care about what TOC writes from time to time. I like the anti 377a feature. I like the face to face dialog they created for the parties to discuss, although I must say I expected more from it. Both have their shortcomings I guess? But what I would really like to have (which might not come true) is a place to discuss issues. Instead of group ranting, discuss and accept other people’s opinion. I wrote this post out of frustration because I wrote something on TR’s fb page, and I was genuinely concerned for TR and I wanted the best for it. But people who do not understand me repeatedly undermined me and kept asking me, am I a PAP troll? With such a community that doesn’t accept my ideas, would I feel comfortable and happy and rate it higher than another site which I feel provides a better avenue for discussion? You have to admit the folks at TR consists of quite a number of extremists who just like to be anti-government.

    Thanks for letting me TOC censor comments criticism them. That is indeed a bad point for them. But I would still rate TOC on top of TR.

    Anyway, I did write about other things like TR claiming to be unbiased, but yet has articles that seemed biased. Why are you not acknowledging the existence of my other points? The reason is simple. You were unhappy about specific points and addressed them. This is what I did, and I must apologise because I did not write in properly, as it was in a rant.

    Still, thanks for your comment, I appreciate it as I learnt some stuff from it. This are the type of comments I would love to read at TR, but such comments are few and far between.

  3. And a Happy New Year to you.

    I apologise if the comment sounded harsh. I am ranting because it is a new year and I come back home to read a comment that reeks of misunderstanding.

  4. Happy New Year to you too.

    Now with regards to the comments, what I specifically objected to was your characterisation of the two issues which painted a very misleading picture of TR.

    I don’t see anything wrong with TR highlighting that Mr Teo Ser Luck once praised the grassroots leader. Go read up on how other countries report on the scandals of fallen officials and those who appoint them. In so many other cases, is it really fair to blame those who appointed them for not knowing what misdeeds they have done or what they will do in future? We don’t know probably the full story on Soo Ee Hock, just as we know that Jonathan Wong the MOE scholar who was jailed for possessing child porn was once publicly caned by his school for peeping into the girls’ toilet.

    Yet time and time again, the media of other countries, along with partisan observers often the blame those who appoint them. My point is this. Rants happen all the time and are a healthy indication of democratic expression. Are they always fair? Of course not. But yet the fact they are so common-place tells you about what kind of standard we should expect from TR. All I’m saying is be realistic. You can’t hold TR to a standard that is not found anywhere else, not even on TOC or even the Channel News Asia forums. Yes you can check the latter out.

    Secondly with regards to the NIE trainee reporting. I think it’s important to point out that you also omitted the fact that the original post by TR did not blame MOE or the education minister for the lapse. In fact it reported in a very neutral manner what exactly happened and did not attempt to politicise the issue at all. The finger pointing was done entirely by some of TR’s readers, while others disagreed. I’m referring to both comments on TR’s FB page and those and the article btw. You can check out the latter here:

    So it seems all the ranting you have done ignores the fact that TR itself did not start the finger pointing but others did, and yet others like yourself objected to it but somehow you’re not mentioning all this. I think you can see why misrepresenting the facts in this manner would make TR readers like myself angry.

    Yes I believe ranting is perfectly acceptable because I believe in freedom of speech and expression. But you’re confusing it with another undemocratic idea I do not hold as well, that is freedom from criticism. If you have the right to rant, others should have the right to rant in return and criticise your rant. I’ve seen this faulty reasoning perpetrated by the government controlled media in Singapore. Someone in the audience steps up to criticise some opposition figure at some talk and is in return rebutted by the opposition figure or his allies. The next day you see the ST quoting some unidentified source who attended the forum saying that the opposition is hypocritical for championing freedom of speech because it shoots down criticism. I think that kind of reasoning is disingenuous. Such an occurrence happened back in 2003 during an SDP organised indoor forum with the public. Needless to say the report which was out by ST the next day was replete with one-sided reporting defending the girl who had criticised Chee. You can Google the details for that.

    One thing you raised about people grouping together and therefore their viewpoints become more extreme. I think you have to acknowledge that there’s the opposite phenomenon as well. Where you have a normally neutral party coming into contact with a partisan commentator. What happens is that the normally neutral person somehow finds himself taking the opposite position ie. becoming more pro-PAP in his positions in defending the government. Haven’t you noticed this effect? I’ve found so in discussion with friends. So the point is, while there’s a group effect there’s also an opposing devil’s advocate effect which you can’t rule out. The consequence is that you get normally anti-PAP people suddenly favouring certain government policies even when they’ve consistently opposed them just days ago.

    It was precisely this effect the late John Maynard Smith had in mind when he said that whenever he talked to Stephen Jay Gould (a fierce sociobiology critic) he found himself becoming a real sociobiologist, but whenever he talked with Edward O. Wilson, he found himself transforming into one of its fiercest critics.

    As for popularity of TOC and TR. Well let me point out that not too long ago, in early 2009 TOC was ahead of TR in SG web traffic rankings. Then TR was called Wayang Party and plenty of others were saying it’s too biased and partisan that it should become like TOC before it could get wider readership. After a while there was a change in management and the site got renamed as TR, posting frequency increased dramatically and TR started covering more and more stories. I remember they were quick to post in response to changes in policies, news reports from the MSM. Over the next few months, TR’s web traffic exploded and it overtook TOC’s and never lost that lead. So where does this leave all those naysayers who were saying TR must become more “moderate” like TOC before it can become more widely read? I would say that it disproves that theory definitively. TOC’s brand of moderation is a farce because they can and do censor comments even thoughtful ones critical of their coverage.

    Just ask the attendants of TOC’s Face to Face forum, did they feel that the format was too restricted? Choo Zheng Xi proposed a very strict question format which I believed was unnecessary. Even in real life events, TOC’s moderation only goes to show that it deserves the moniker The Online Censor instead. Personally I’d wager this is why TOC has lost web traffic to TR. No one likes having their opinion censored and deleted, especially if contain more than just mindless rants.

    The last point about not acknowledging that TR isn’t unbiased. I think that’s unnecessary actually. I didn’t acknowledge that the Earth is round and that Lee Hsien Loong is the Prime Minister. It should be quite obvious that certain things are true without belabouring on them. My general critique of your position is that it oversimplifies the difference between TOC and TR, portraying the former as “moderate” when a more accurate portrayal is that it’s brand of censorship is self-serving and that it focuses on issues that most Singaporeans do not care much for.

  5. Or perhaps you could try this out if you have the time. Write a review on both sites, provide feedback to them on their strong points and weak points as well as how they can improve their outreach and coverage. Send it to them for publication. Which website is more likely to publish your letter?

    It’s something of an irony TOC has changed so much. Perhaps this was why Donaldson Tan left TOC. I remember in the past, it was TOC which had this Contribute or Submit letter feature to them but Wayang Party (former TR) didn’t have it. I sent them some feedback over email and was surprised when they bothered to reply. At the time I remembered telling them that one way they could get more readers interested is to be more open in allowing readers to shape the discussion instead of just having the main admins and writers which both you and I agree are biased to post articles.

    I’m glad to see that they ultimately took up that suggestion. Now a lot of articles you see on TR are reader-contributions as opposed to those on TOC. I think that’s ultimately a good thing. TR shouldn’t be held responsible for contributions unless you also argue that it has an obligation to censor them. I’m pretty sure if they started behaving like TOC and begin heavy censoring they would lose a lot of readers.

  6. Hi, a very long comment I see. 🙂

    I don’t really think there is any standard one can use to measure TR. Each person has their own views and opinions on how the site should be run, and everyone would use their internal scale to determine which site they feel more at ease with. I must agree it is misleading considering I did not talk about plenty of things, but that would go into very specific items. I would then have to clarify every single bit of issue. For example, instead of saying, I find it tiring to read the comments, I have to say, I find it tiring to read some of the comments, but there are some great comments too.

    You may be right, rants happen all the time and are a healthy indication. I’m not disputing that. I am saying I feel very tired reading all those rants that do not contribute to the discussion at hand.

    With regards to the NIE reporting, yes I failed to omit that fact, or perhaps I failed to be specific. In fact the post was largely on the comments found in TR, not on TR itself. Hence to clarify, I was talking about the readers.

    Hence this isn’t really a case of misrepresenting the facts, but I did not make myself clear where the focus is. TR readers started the finger pointing, which I am sick of reading. Nonetheless, there are other articles (I am lazy to dig them out), which calls for blood, and yes there are supporters and people opposing it, but that’s really not something important enough to mention? When 70% of the commenters are supporters and 30% objects, I don’t really see the point in having to clarify every single statement so I cover both ends. It would make a post very long.

    You are very right with your argument in freedom to criticise. Personally I have not viewed the opposition to be same as TR readers. By TR readers, I refer to a specific few and not all, in case you wonder again. These readers accuse ST of being unfair to the opposition (which I too agree), but yet are unfair to PAP. Their claims of balancing the unbiasness of ST makes me feel very disappointed.

    The 2003 report you mentioned, did it come with the criticism of MM Lee as well? If it is so, I read the report and I remember it because the girl is a friend of mine.

    With regards to grouping of people and extreme viewpoints, I understand what you mean, but I wasn’t really talking about people changing their ideas on government policies due to group effect. I was trying to say TR could become popular due to such reasons. In fact, for people who need an outlet to rant and criticise unconstructively, you have to agree TR provides a better avenue than TOC, which you did mention, censor comments.

    I am quite familiar with Wayang Party, at that point in time I never thought of it as being on the ranks of TOC. It just seemed like a personal blog. Indeed it has improved much transitioning to TR. And what I spoke about last paragraph with regards of grouping does explain why TR might be more popular.

    But you make good point about the naysayers, which unfortunately, I do belong to that group. Maybe not so much about whether widely read or not, but whether it does help improve Singapore. There is no real answer. Additionally, who is to say whose’s method of running the site is better? In terms of web traffic? That’s really narrow. Everyone has their own guidelines, and to me I feel TOC is a better site than TR.

    So the question here for this entire issue is this: Should sites moderate? If sites do censoring of comments based on a fairly acceptable guidelines, they do help cut down on comments that do not deserve time being read. Furthermore, it is clear on which comments are giving ideas, and hence help facilitate discussion. Just like in this situation, I am learning a lot from you because the “noise” is not here. TR has plenty of “noise” which makes me feel lost. But on the other hand, moderation is potential for abuse, like TOC censoring criticisms of itself. In addition, one cannot see the “democratic” thoughts of the people. This is something the individual decides for himself.

    Anyway the battle is always not won based on logic and ideas but on the ground sentiment, which can be fueled by flowery words of no substance. This will continue and never end, and hence perhaps TR is a better site that can fan the flames more and support the opposition cause. Or should TR be taking sides? I don’t really know. My ideal site would be a site that does not take any side, but it is hard to say.

    For the unbiased acknowledgement paragraph, it wasn’t intended to be intepreted that way. I wrote it to point out one fact. People choose to write on specific things and they don’t always cover everything mentioned in an article. You focused on specific parts which you felt was lacking and you talked about it, but you did not acknowledge that I brought out some valid points. Similarly I wrote about the large group (the majority) calling for blood etc, and failed to acknowledge that there are people who oppose the majority’s ideas.

    With regards to your question, perhaps in your opinion TR is more likely to publish that letter. You may be true. I have not tried and I have no wish to. I would be wasting my time because I would get so many comments on TR that point fingers at me accusing me to be a PAP pig and a troll of the PAP regime. I guess this sentence brings another point: I don’t really like how TR repeatedly and purposely calls the government a regime. I don’t care what ST does but in my opinion TR shouldn’t do what ST does. Tit for tat doesn’t sit well with me. Hence what is the point of TR publishing the letter when the majority will not take kindly to it? I am of course, talking about its readers. Everytime I visualize myself writing a contribution that urges Singaporeans to be objective and criticise policies instead of any party, I see myself surrounded by naysayers pointing to me and saying “Are you from YPAP? Are you a PAP supporter”. Even by contributing to TR on Facebook, I have been accused TWICE just because I pointed out something which I thought could improve TR. And guess what? Such unfair accusations get many “Likes”. I am ostracised simply because my ideas are different.

    I am quite surprised about reader’s contributions. You see, I know there are contributions by readers, but I cannot find a place where it says I can contribute. I have no idea how I can contribute. Perhaps the site needs to be improved to make it more obvious.

    And yes I would argue TR has an obligation to censor articles. But I am sure you would beg to differ, but that doesn’t matter actually. TR decides what stand they want to take. There is no right or wrong. I just happen to prefer TOC’s censoring and the cutting down on noise. It’s a matter of personal preference.

    Which of the following do you want? A site without censorship with plenty of noise. It has credible articles but are marred by a few which spoil it’s image as the articles seemed to be very biased. Vs a site which censors but leaves the comments that are indeed contributing to the discussion at hand? Personally I choose the latter. But does it really matter? It is merely my own personal opinion.

    But I would like to seek your opinion on one thing. I remember arguing against certain TR readers on the FB page (not on the main page). (And I think the TR inside the FB is not the real TR? But I have no means of confirming it).

    An article appears on TR, accusing the WP of being a Wayang Party, and ends off with saying the RP is the only credible party left that should be voted in. Do you think such an article should be published? So I asked the TR on Facebook why recently there are plenty of articles dismissing WP and supporting RP. I would be pleased to get an answer that states that it is a reader contribution and that they publish all contributions fairly. However the answer I got from TR of Facebook was that it is now time for TR to pick the most promising party and support them.

    To me that sets a dangerous precedent. Now TR becomes a one party only site? As you mentioned, TR allows rants etc that represents the democratic sentiment on the ground. But only supporting RP would change all of that isn’t it? But the TR readers on Facebook didn’t understand. They only assumed all arguments against TR are done by PAP trolls. Does it really?

    And what seriously gives TR the authority to decide which party it chooses as the most promising?

    This is the central item I wanted to write about actually.

    Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it that you have phrased it in this manner instead of the previous one. I still read TR and am a TR reader. I would not impose my ideals on any site, but my stand still remains the same. After considering all the arguments, my personal preference would be TOC. But it does not mean TR is lousy or it is offensive to TR’s readers. But to be honest, TR does makes me feel I should have been apathetic to politics. And by TR I mean readers included.

  7. Hi, sorry for the absence of reply.

    Anyway, I want to say that I admit that some of TRs’ admins are fond of spinning stories to attack the ruling party. Just after I defended them on the NIE trainee issue I came across this:

    Oh well. But in any case, TR is run by multiple mods and it seems that they don’t always agree with each other. It might help to explain why in one article you see a very neutral and non-political stand, yet the next day a slanted PAP-bashing article. It looks as though they are starting to cut down on some of this behaviour though, where each mod promotes his own agenda such as bashing WP, spinning stories to attack the ruling party etc:

    As for the 2003 news report on the SDP event, sorry I can’t remember what’s the girl’s name nor the other details. All I know is that she’s from Hwa Chong.

    The point you make about TR taking sides. I have to say that’s not unusual. Mainstream papers have long had a tradition of endorsing candidates for office via its editorial team. The New York Times for example has always endorsed the Democratic candidate for President since the 1950s without fail. Even when it comes to Democratic primaries, the paper sometimes takes a stand even when doing so might end up alienating some of its readers who support another candidate. Doing all of this has not diminished NYT’s credibility and reputation, and hence I don’t quite see anything wrong if TR chooses to endorse and promote a particular party. My only concern as someone who’s open to alternate viewpoints is that doing so might turn off readers who don’t like the ruling party but who back another horse.

    I don’t know what’s going on inside TR or who’s who. But if you have been following TR’s FB page you’ll notice that some time back they were calling for volunteers to help run their page. That might be why we see that the FB admins have been taking on strange positions not endorsed by the main site from time to time. There are also quite a number of posts by them saying that the admins who manage the same site are not the same as the one who runs the FB page.

    On this point, it’s also interesting to take note that TOC at some point or another has also criticised opposition parties or painted a slanted view of them. They aren’t quite the neutral party some people might make them out to be:

    As for moderation I think the problem is that you can’t ensure that you won’t end up censoring comments which are critical of TOC but which also point out key issues. It’s a slippery slope problem. You’ve pointed out that you’re unhappy that some people have accused you of trolling for PAP when you criticise TR. But think of it this way, if TR had adopted TOC’s way of censorship and moderation, you would have found your comment deleted while those calling you a PAP troll might have remained. I doubt you’ll be happier if TR had behaved like TOC with respect to moderation. TOC has told people who criticise it to get lost off its FB page after deleting their comments:

    It’s interesting to note that Rayna Song who was censored by TOC has also raised the same question as you did for TR:
    “The other important question is… what have The Online Censor done to help Singapore? 😉 What would we become if TOC ever have power (in any form impacting Singapore) when it is already exercising censorship now?? Says one thing but does another…”

    If I may be as so bold to conjecture: I guess that your own political position is closer to TOC’s editorial stance, which is probably why you prefer to read them. I think at the end of the day what matters is that readers of TR/TOC should know they bear sole responsibility for what they choose to read and shouldn’t be over-dependent on moderators to filter out content for them:

    I mean, it seems to me Singaporeans are too dependent on having a government to do certain things for them like censoring films (whether political ones or RA ones) that they can’t quite live without it even when it comes to the Internet. That’s just my opinion.

    One last thing before I sign off here. You’ve pointed out that comments on TR’s articles have had the effect of turning potential fans and readers off despite the fact they’re not TR’s opinion. My question to you is don’t you think that by taking unpopular positions such as calling for a moratorium on all executions, which many Singaporeans don’t support, TOC’s admins might be turning off mandatory capital punishment supporters (I count myself as one of those folks) as well? In TOC’s case I argue that the turn-off impact would be larger since the article is much more attributable to them rather than if they were mere reader comments.

  8. Hi, thanks for that comment.

    I must say I agree and understand your point. Indeed TR isn’t unified enough in their stance, and yes some of the admins like to spin stories to attack the ruling party. I note the author in the link your provided that he has always written stuff just to attack the ruling party, whether there is a case or not. Hopefully one day TR would be more neutral.

    Somehow when you put it in this way that the NYT has the tradition of endorsing candidates, it doesn’t seem that bad for TR to do so if it chooses. Perhaps it is just not what I would have wanted. Personally I am really interested to see what all parties think. Hence when they choose to promote one party, I am one of those who will get turned off even though I don’t back any party at all. I just want a source where I can make my own judgement myself.

    I agree. FB admins seem to be not in tune with TR’s admins. In fact, just like how some TR mods have their own agenda, the FB admin seems to have their agenda too. Just that it appears more frequently to be PAP bashing than TR. But it is dangerous because they use the TR name and brand but yet take a different stance.

    Now that you point our TOC’s flaws, I guess there is no one single site that can be balanced and yet be effective.

    And I agree. If TR adopted TOC’s way of censorship I would still be called a troll and my comments deleted. That is indeed a bad point.

    Actually now that I participated more actively in TOC’s facebook page, I realize that while there are lesser bashing, there is still a substantial amount of bashing. But at least I am happy to note that the people there are agreeable and would take the time to understand what I type. I feel more “belonged” if there is such a phrase.

    As for your question, I was recently thinking about the mandatory death penalty. I was thinking, if TOC advocated the repeal of the mandatory death penalty, but presented the ideas in a factual and acceptable manner, then it wouldn’t turn off people so much as TR did for my case. As you did point out, certain mods in TR have their own agenda and like to just bash the ruling party for no reason.That is how I feel turn off. Not because my ideas are different, but because their articles make no sense. But I must say there are still solid and wonderful articles in TR. Just some articles spoil the broth.

    Perhaps instead of calling for a moratorium on all executions, TOC should just put our ideas on death penalty and let people think for themselves. Leave the work to the activists. After reading, then we as Singaporeans decide whether which stand to take. In that way, TOC and TR can be a more balanced site. 🙂

    Once again, thanks for the comments. I enjoyed reading them and the links too.

  9. I hope you’ve seen this article on TOC by now.

    There’s clear evidence laid out that TOC practised unreasonable moderation by silencing even reasonable comments (not even personal attacks or irrelevant content) which went against their agenda.

    Of course I don’t expect you to be convinced. If anything the reaction on both sides show that TOC is biased the same way TR is, perhaps even more chillingly so in the same way the mainstream media is. Both sides have their own mindless partisans, as well as thoughtful contributors to the debate.

  10. Hi friend,

    I have never seen that article, because I rarely click on items posted by TR on FB. Well, from the whole saga I just learnt: “To each his own”. Everybody has flaws and good points. Everyone has their ideas and hopes. People who like openness and a lack of editorial content (and hence more clutter) are free to read TR. People who prefer more editorial action and hence less clutter are free to read TOC. Let the people decide. I have started to ignore comments by anyone on both sides anyway.

    You are right I guess. TOC does censor, a little too much. But I really don’t care and I don’t have the energy to care. Like you said, people want to read about things relevant to them, and hence flock to TR because TOC does stuff like argue against MDP. It is the same with me too. After returning home after a long day at school, I just want to read the site that I feel is more relevant to my interests. Since I am not too bothered about comments now, let’s just say I don’t wish to judge which stance is right. I just happen to prefer TOC.

    There are many things I am unhappy with TR about, but let’s not discuss this. It is a discussion that will lead nowhere. If I do not like TR, I guess I just have to not read it.

  11. Hi,

    I apologise if you thought I was trying to mock you. I was not. I was only trying to show you a side of TOC which not many know about. It’s one thing to claim that TOC deletes reasonable comments, it’s something else altogether to say that this was done in attempt to manufacture consensus.

    I do not know if you had read the TR article. As a friend, I believe you should be informed on this. There’s an entire book written with this title:

    If you read the TR article you would know that it proves, with screenshots (TOC did not dispute that the screenshots were real or misleading in their response) that what TOC was doing was more than just censorship. It was deliberately done to engineer consensus and consent. In other words they disallowed arguments in the form of comments because that would distort the overall impression of the comments against their agenda.

    Take a look at gemammi’s comments here:

    He’s been commenting at TOC for a long time, since 2008. Ever wonder why each time you see an article on TR, there’s always a fair bit of dissent, against the commenters who praise the author and the article itself? Less so for TOC, which is the second highest traffic blog in Singapore. Sometimes you see just one or two dissenting comments, and the rest gangs up to bash just that person. That’s because TOC engineered it that way to show there was largely consensus. It’s not just censorship.

    And this isn’t the mainstream media you’re talking about. It’s the NEW media, the ones which have been set up by netizens. They’re going to this ridiculous extent even for the new media just to manufacture a false consensus while silencing all other dissenters, however reasonable they are.

    Here’s another article back in early 2009 by a veteran commenter:

    Soo Jenn’s comments was never approved by TOC. Why?

    It’s chilling and disturbing to see what TOC is trying to do. They’ve gone one step ahead into the new media, selectively allow only weak dissenting arguments then let the rest of the commenters bash and trash that argument out to show that dissenters don’t have good arguments against their position. Whereas good opposing arguments are censored out.

    Even rant-filled TR doesn’t stoop that low to manufacture consent. I know you will never like TR, and it’s not my purpose to convince you otherwise. I don’t get paid a cent by anyone for doing so. But just take a step back and ask yourself if you ever suspected TOC was doing something like that.

    As I’ve said above, and I really mean it when I say this. I hope TOC will never come to power in Singapore in any way. What they’ve done on their blog already foreshadows what they might do when in charge.

  12. Hi,

    There is no need for an apology, for I had not thought that way. I appreciate the effort you take to show me things all the time, and as a junior into this new world, I thank you for your efforts.

    I would have to agree I am quite appalled. For this is more than just moderation of comments to facilitate discussion. Indeed it is very scary because no one know anybody’s true intention of doing certain things. So for me I have just learnt to rely on my own judgement and not read the comments.

    Actually, I have met up with more resistance on TR’s facebook than TOC’s. The example you gave is just like what I felt in TR. A whole bunch of people ganging up to bash me, calling me a PAP troll etc etc. When I raised the concern that a merger of the only two more popular new media platforms could bring about abuse, I was labelled as paranoid, which I found to be oppressive. For everyone there was also being paranoid about the PAP, yet their paranoia is justified and mine less so. I get ganged up so many times that I simply gave up.

    I agree that it is wrong to allow only weak dissenting arguments and let the rest bash that argument to bits. But I think it is similarly wrong to disallow alternate opinions by allowing an entire bunch of people to bash my opinion without proper debate and discussion.

    I also agree with you because I hope TOC will never come to power. This is something I strongly believe in. Given our MSM which is giving the government much coverage, we all know the power of the media to sway people. And this is a very scary thought. In the same way that I do not want TOC to come into power, I too, do not want TR to come into power. This is the reason why I was so flatly against TR buying TOC, even though on the surface it sounded like it was only buying TOC in name. We do not know who runs the site, and we do not know the agenda of the person involved. We just have to let our suspicions linger and guards our senses, and try to make the best decisions out of all the confusion on the internet.

    I thought I should also explain why I felt so sick of reading comments yesterday. I had just came out of reading the post about Chinatown being a sleazy place. Whilst my take out from the article was that there should be more done to enforce the area, the take out for some people there was that there should be death penalty against gay people. I just feel so disgusted and disorientated. But eventually I realized it is hard to convince people to follow our opinions, and I should just respect that they have their own stand to take. Hence I think I should just stop participating in commenting on both TOC and TR, and just think for my own. To be honest, I have stopped reading both sites actively. I think, in a way, I am quite sick of all these.

  13. Hi,

    Yes I agree that commenters on TR tend to attack people more often than commenters on TOC. For example, I’ve submitted articles to TR before. I notice that sometimes I get attacked by commenters even though they don’t disagree at all with what I wrote. It’s bewildering and makes myself wonder is this really a TR phenomenon or is it just reflective of the way Singapore netizens are? I would say it’s the way Singaporeans are. They like to attack people instead of arguments and turn every disagreement into a fight about the person’s motives and personality rather than actually addressing the argument itself.

    I have to credit TOC where it’s due. Their moderation may be overkill, but it has turned off people who tend to do that. At the same time, it has of course also killed a lot of dissenting opinion. For myself I prefer not to have dissenters silenced, even if they resort to personal attacks. I’ve come to ignore most of the attacks and reply to only those which really address actual arguments.

    As for their respective FB pages, I have to say that FB is really a bad place for commenting. One has to read through a whole long thread before you know who’s replying to whom on which arguments. I’ve since cut down on commenting on FB and more on their websites.

  14. Hi,

    sorry for taking so long to reply. I guess you are right. Somehow it is a Singaporean culture to disagree and bring people down without actually making much logical sense. Or in a way it is perhaps easier to bond with people and rant against the administration or an entity as a way to vent out the stresses of daily life. I mean, humans are born to be social and to be in groups. We feel most comfortable when we are with people who think the same way too. So maybe it became easy to just take the sides of irrationality just to feel that there are many people who think the same way? This is my theory, and what I think reflects some part of society.

    Yes FB is a horrible place for discussion due to all the @ here and there. But even for sites, let’s take TR for example, I find it similarly hard to concentrate as there is plenty of clutter around. I applaud TR for taking steps to implement the like and dislike function, but it isn’t really effective.

  15. I’m sorry IG, but most average Singaporeans still prefer reading TR. As their readership shows.

    There are many reasons for this, and as much as you’d want to make the case for TOC here, statistics speak for themselves.

  16. Hi E,

    thanks for your comment. Well, when I wrote the post so many months ago, it was mainly written to talk about the flaws I thought TR has. I’m not there to debate on a website’s readership, and I was just stating my preference. Humans are like that, some like Pepsi, some like Coca Cola. It’s just based on how we grow up and how we perceive matters. As of this moment I don’t think I would want to make “the case for TOC”, as my intention was to voice my preference, not influence unduly.

    I understand the fascination with TR. It is a place where one can contribute articles and they would publish it. As compared to a censored site, you would feel your opinions are more valued. Granted it is an attractive option; however the downside is that the integrity of the article greatly diminishes when people contribute lousy articles. I just don’t like how their FB page likes to fan the flames or claim to see the need to only gather people to support one opposition party. Well this is my views, if the majority feels otherwise, so be it. We live in a democracy and I do not wish to force my views upon others.

    However I find it funny when people tell me “the majority” or “average Singaporeans” feel this way, like this thing etc. Before the elections I had successfully predicted the results. It is partly luck, part observation. I realized that if we hang around TR too long, we would suddenly develop this effect where we become myopic and think that everyone is like us. Group think, if I can call it that. I do not think that the population reading TR is sizable enough to call them the majority or “most average Singaporeans”. We have a lot of youths but we do have a lot of elderly people who are not internet savvy, and we are a aging population. I just think that it is still far fetched to think that people reading TR form a majority.

    Just my opinion. 🙂 Obviously you have your preference, and I shall not attempt to convince you otherwise. Once again thank you for your comment.

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