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The Perils of Attempting to Regulate the Internet

Posted by intellisg on March 25, 2007

Recently at a Foreign Correspondents Association lunch, the government unveiled its strategy to manage the new media. Second Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan – mentioned the need to set “the rules of engagement” for the new media.

It’s a development that has generated considerable consternation in blogosphere – some have labeled it, simply as yet another attempt to control and regulate the internet. Others feel real or imagined. This was simply just another ploy designed to cower wayward bloggers to behave or else…… The oblique threat is clear – we live in a world of implications. So now you know the facts of life – the writing is on the wall.

This throws out the question what are the drivers which had led to this development? What does the government hope to accomplish and more important will it really work? Are there any pitfalls?

THE NEED TO FIND HEAVENLY BALANCE.

One concern highlighted by the Dr V. Balakrishnan was:

“The need to balance the diverse interests of the society when it comes to issues of sex, nudity and violence online.”

No one doubts there is a need to balance these elements. Rather the issue remains to what degree? As the Ancient ascetics who worry no end about the prospect of threading where angels fear to tread will say,

“String it too tightly and it will snap. String it too loose and the Sitar will simply not play.”

At the crux of the issue, it begs the question where is the sweet point that yields the perfect balance to allow for the necessary widget space for evolution. Yet maintaining the desired control features to ensure the new media develops coherently. This would of course require us to examine what is meant by term “diverse interest?” And consider whether it’s even malleable enough to lend themselves itself as ballast to facilitate the balancing act.

Setting aside morality and religious diversity and restricting ourselves purely to a political examination. It would be accurate to say the partisan landscape of Singapore embodies the entire undulating contour of the entire political spectrum ranging from the extreme neo conservative, middle moderate to the progressive.

How then does the government attempt to then find the happy “balance?” The answer depends on a certain understanding of the complexity of political theory. Do all political standards derive from a single principle? No so even if policymakers decide to plumb their line of acceptability on the median scale, it doesn’t even guarantee them a fair payout – after all what about those seething at the bi-polar spectrum?

Another problem with this theory of statistical accommodation, it’s at best a compromised solution. Pursuing such a strategy only inspires limited discourse that brackets (i.e., that excludes from discussion) morality, religion and sex so completely, it’s bound to eventually generate its own disenchantment creating an unfulfilled need for a deeper discussion and explorations into the bracketed issues.

Where then will these discussions find themselves sprouting out? Yes (you guessed it) the internet. So you are back to square one again. I stand corrected as always, but I spent nearly a whole morning just pretending to work while modeling the outcome using heuristic game theory on 10 sheets of A-4 paper. I am afraid I could be right. Could someone please prove me wrong? I doubt it.)

One of the reasons why the internet scene in Singapore remains such a prolific domain where there is considerable discourse pertaining to religion, sex and politics is because no such outlet exist in the real world! In New York, one would simply stand naked in Times Square. In London, speakers corner will do quite nicely, but in Singapore filling up the form to even stand in Speakers corner is like applying for a position in NASA. Its tough, hence water finds the course of least resistance – the internet. It is such a wonder than it continues to as an avenue for self expression?

It’s an outlet (for lack of a better word) which contrary to populist belief serves no purpose. Because it fulfils a very important and beneficial function to keep away fundamentalism. As extreme ideologies can really only take root in the absence of liberal discourse. The assumption here is where there is an intellectual vacuum i.e an absence or low level of discourse, radical elements will simply step in to start building their lexicons of truths. That’s one of the contradictions of attempting to regulate the net. It just drives everything underground further beneath the level of scrutiny and detection – that’s just the right conditions for something like an evil brotherhood movement to spawn. Not like our BS variety that claims to be the best kept secret in Singapore that everyone reads regularly during their lunch time break! Again we back to square one.

Another problem with any attempt to control the new media lies in the limits and the impossibility of successfully placating every quarter along the spectrum of a floating notion of acceptability. Like I mentioned earlier not even if policymakers put all their chips squarely on the center of the median scale – that’s only possible if ALL moral standards derive from a single principle. But in multi racial and faith Singapore that’s not possible. The divide between conservatives and progressives will ensure even the most brilliantly crafted datum of “acceptability” remains at best divisive. Resorting to instructional and directional guidelines complimented with the threat of punitive measures to stop them from straggling each other may prove effective, in the short term.

However in the long term it also means institutionalizing and perpetuating the divide. Besides it’s a make lousy sense from a return on energy perspective, regulation anything is just too labor intensive and inefficient. Besides it suffers from a “contemporaneous limiter” effect i.e you only know there is a problem when the shit hits the fan. There is no means to pre-empt a blow up or a full scale internet tsunami from taking shape as we all saw in the Mr Brown saga and the Wee Shun Min affair. In both cases events culminated so rapidly that public outcry was hardly predictable let alone predictable.

A NEW PARADIGM FOR MANAGING A NEW MEDIA

It makes more sense in the long run for policymakers to buy into the notion of devoting their energies to changing public opinion about the net. Rather than wasting their energy on defending and protecting individual rights by regulating what may or may not be posted in the new media.

The logic isn’t so different or novel as to suggest even for one moment it qualifies as an original line of thinking. If we really consider it on its merits, it’s just an extension of the concept of globalization. Globalization compels all of us to accept the reality we can no more return to the cottage industry even if we wanted to beat our keyboards into ploughshares. There is a finality to the equation of choice. In this decision nexus we are left with no option other than to surrender ourselves to the inexorable effects of globalization by re-defining how we may choose to live, work and play. Why then do we continue to insist that the new media should necessary abide by immersing itself into the old and inherited ethos of command and control? Does it for one moment appear ironical that we may appear to be even progressive when it comes to the abstraction of globalization, yet remain all together bovine and largely unimaginative when if confronts us directly in the form of the new media?

This is where is it important for policymakers to seriously consider crafting a strategic vision which will allow values to migrate to meet the challenge posed by a new media. At the heart of the strategy is the need to carve out common ground where even those who may agree to disagree will hopefully agree this is where we really need to unite to face the challenges of the making the best out of the new media. Doing otherwise will simply mean we will simply languish by trying to control that which we may not even be able to control – the new media.

(By Scholarboy / Politics / Internet / Socio – EP 994397 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

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24 Responses to “The Perils of Attempting to Regulate the Internet”

  1. I think any strategic approach to media must consider the increasing porosity of censorship. Perhaps the solution entails educating the citizenry to be media literate. Citizens should ask themselves who is writing, what the vested interest is, what is writ between the lines, and what is the motive of the writer, etc.

    It is worth noting, however, that both establishmentarians and anti-establishmentarians might find new challenges in such a milieu. Governments would have to work harder to convince — but in a world of media-literate consumers, critics would also find their claims subject to similar scrutiny.

  2. anongal said

    A very well written article. The points were sharp. This time you didnt insult the intelligence of the reader. Instead you gave them just enough without explaining it like a manga comic. That should be the way, it leaves the final decision to the reader – very well done!

    I really hope this doesnt come across as condescending, but my friends and I would really like to volunteer my services in correcting the spelling of the articles regularly published by the bro press.

    Every time I read, I end up getting a head ache, I am still confused whether it is like the old forum days, when bambi deliberately made spelling mistakes to come across as more real and authentic?????

  3. polarpuff said

    Hello scholar boy,

    I think this article will score the highest hits. I saw one girl photostating about 30 copies to circulate around our office. Agree with many of your points.

    I dont like bad spelling. I think it really lets down the presentation and subconsciously affects the impression of those reading it.

  4. caleb said

    Another insightful post with many thought provoking suggestions. I especially like the one where you mentioned in the absence of rigorous discourse. This just creates the right conditions for radicalism to step in. Could you pls provide me with a reading list on this specific observation? As I really like to brush up on my general knowledge on this subject.

    I visited singapore surf and I noticed this article is mentioned as “by the intelligent singaporean,” I just want to clarify what is the relationship between the brotherhood press and the IS? thanks

  5. scholarboy said

    “I would really like to volunteer my services in correcting the spelling of the articles regularly published by the bro press.”

    Thank you for the offer. However, it will not be practical arrangement.

    We simply have to pay closer attention to the editing process.

    Caleb,

    Source:

    (1)Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny by Amartya Sen / Norton.

    Where he discusses the perils of cultural isolation and narrowness. Pls refer to his research materials on “faith schools” in the UK.

    (2) Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics by Michael Sandel / Harvard University Press

    Pls pay special attention to his research concerning the rise of the Christian coalition and the neo conservatives.

    Further reading:

    (*) Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a world of strangers by K A Appiah Norton.

    Pls refer to his discourse on the “Asante.”

  6. scholarboy said

    Caleb,

    Optional reading: on the perils of narrowness and restricting political dialogue by legislation.

    See Kwame Anthony Appaih, “Whose culture is it?” The New York Review, Feb 9, 2006.

    On the importance of balanced plurality on justice, see also: The theory of justice (Harvard University Press, 1999 Edition revised from earlier 1977)

    Pay close attention to section 84 and 85.

  7. repairman said

    SB cool runs. 10 sheets of A4???? I did in with a 10 cent coin, heads or tails lol.

    Did I ever tell u, u r very a very strange bloke.

  8. Chronicler said

    Caleb,

    2nd level reading.

    [By Scholarboy / Politics / Internet / Socio – EP 994397 -2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007 – JJU Archive Refer: L/A/P/E/R. 2007. Astroboy lead researcher / SB lead writer / Auto ret.

    WORD SEARCH / result BP/ 992992 :Tag Line/

    Supplementary reading on the perils of cultural isolation and narrowness.

    (1) Anti-Semitism? / The New York Sun, August 2, 2006 / Journalist: Foxman.

    (2) Lewis MacKenzie, Peacekeeper; The Road to Sarajevo (D. McIntyre, 1993), pp 255-256.

    (3) “What is human rights watch watching?” The Jerusalem Post, August 24, 2006.

    Regards

    Chronicler

  9. Chronicler said

    Brotherhood Press guarantees ALL of you a memorable and unforgettable reading experiencing.

    That would of course mean we regularly incorporate spelling, grammatical and construction errors to create just the right feel to convey the mood of authenticity.

    Let me put it this way. It’s a bit like opening a hundred year old bottle of cognac.

    The bottle is warped, the label is moth eaten. It’s even dusty and even after uncorking it there is a lot of sedimentation and settling.

    But you have to all understand this is something all connoisseurs appreciate.

    Let me give you another example, you buy a hand made pottery, it isn’t as level as a factory made variety. The glaze is uneven, the finish not as precise either, but again that is the real thing. Its hand made. You can feel a sense of oneness with this object, it has been touched by a human, not a machine.

    Why would anyone want to settle for anything less?

    That’s really beyond me. I am sorry, I have completely lost all of you.

  10. astroboy said

    Chronicler,

    I didnt know we did all dat! Personally, I dont see any harm. Besides they r all journalist. They have the training and software and it would probably take them less than 5 minutes.

    We could all even take writing lessons from them?

  11. inspir3d said

    “I really hope this doesnt come across as condescending, but my friends and I would really like to volunteer my services in correcting the spelling of the articles regularly published by the bro press.”

    hi Anongal, after working through several articles, i finally gave up editing the spelling/grammar.

    let’s see if u have more luck 🙂

  12. scholarboy said

    You r all forgetting a few things aren’t you.

    Can they run 5.5 km in less than 20 min? Can they swim 2 km unassisted? Can they do 300 push up’s in 2 min flat? Can they ride the bukit timah mountain bike trail in less than 30 min? Do they have jungle survival skills? Can they space talk? Do they even know how to tie 40 Alpine knots? Or even what to do in an avalanche?

    I really doubt it. Chronicler is right.

  13. astroboy said

    WHAT HAS DAT GOT TO DO WITH EDITING MY ESSAYS OR TEACHING ME HOW TO WRITE!

    I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU R DUMB ENOUGH TO POST THIS. THE WHOLE OF SINGAPORE IS READING IT. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW CRAZED YOU SOUND!

    What about agnes? She is a girl.

    She didnt have to go thru the physical fitness test for the brotherhood.

    Besides that test only applies for the 130th!

    It doesnt apply for the diplomatic space corp!

  14. chronicler said

    You r the crazy one AB. SB is right. There is the physical test. (thanks for reminding me)

    Agnes doesnt count, she is a honorary man. No one talks to her except darkness and harphyboy.

    Besides do the freemasons admit women? What about the illuminati?

    I think what SB is trying to say to you, in a very polite way is there is a philosophical divide here. You dont have to raise your voice.

    One that you have conveniently failed to register and pls dont behave like a cry baby and start to comsat darkness.

    The matter is settled, we just need to buy a book and brush up on our spelling and grammar etc.

  15. Trajan said

    AB is right, we seriously need to nail down the lousy spelling and grammar.

    Everyone in Singapore is laughing at us. This afternoon I overheard two girls talking about the IS and they were laughing at us. Even HAL cannot spell, wat kinda of super computer is that!!!!!!!!!!!

    We really need a English teacher. We have the data but we dont have the skill sets bc all of us are either scientist or engineers, so we should consider humbling ourselves. AB has a point.

  16. HAL said

    Please don’t get me involved.

    It’s obviously human error, so pls take it up with the humans!

  17. chronicler said

    Look here teamsters. It’s just a minor glich.

    We will just break it all down to a system. We have done this bfr. How hard can it be? Really?

    I will buy the books, the chroniclers office will bear the cost.

    Each of us studies one chapter. We all met one day a week in JDAM’s house. His mom cooks good food. We will sort it out, we have always do – dont we?

    We will nail the problem, I promise you. There is no need to involve darkness, this is just a very small matter or those journalist in ST.

    OK let us all watch TV now and let us not fight any more.

    I am sorry, if I came across as defensive, I didnt mean too.

  18. astroboy said

    If I said anything hurtful. I am sorry scholarboy.

  19. Harphoon said

    Inspirid pls delete 19 asap

  20. Harphoon said

    thanks inspirid. I really appreciate that.

  21. inspir3d said

    no worries

  22. scholarboy said

    I didnt mean it that way. I am sorry. I am so sorry. I didnt mean like it sounded. I am just so sorry Harphoon.

    I just want to go into a hole and hide right now.

  23. harphoon said

    I understand. darkness is my friend. Someone who I respect more than I can put into words. Let us be more careful.

    Chronicler there could be a mirror copy of the post. Pls hunt it down and erase it. Use whatever resources we have. Hack if required. I authorised it under section 59.

    Do it now! Obey me.

  24. Chronicler said

    harphy,

    We already did it 10 min ago. No trace exist.

    The father of the game is safe.

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