Thursday, March 29, 2007

QotW9: Speak Up if You're a Citizen?

In 1994, author Catherine Lim was admonished by then PM Goh Chok Tong and challenged to enter the political arena for her commentary in a Straits Times column on a disjunct between hard-nosed government policies and the aspirations of citizens. The Government had always maintained that those who want to discuss politics should join a political society. (Koh, 2000) But this changed in the Government’s recent nod to politics in the media and their “light touch approach” to Internet regulation.

Singapore’s most well known blogger shot to higher fame with his parody that had a certain pig organ as the star. Mr Brown’s Tur Kwa podcast which poked fun at the Government’s put down of Worker’s Party candidate James Gomez for his blunder of not submitting his election forms properly and blaming it on an Elections Department official amassed a big following. This earned him a mention in PM Lee Hsien Loong’s 2006 National Day Rally speech with the infamous misquote, “Mee Siam Mai Hum”. Yet another podcast was spawned with a funny spoof from pop group The Black Eyed Peas. Although the Government made no apparent response to that issue, Mr Brown’s TODAY article in another separate incident got him fired from the newspaper. “S’poreans are fed, up with progress!” spoke about his concern on the constant price increases that came with the country’s strive for greater progress via satire. (Brown, 2006) This time, he drew flak (and blood) from the Ministry of Information, Communications, and the Arts (MICA) for “distorting the truth.” (Giam, 2006) Many expressed disappointed with the still somewhat lack of transparency towards political opinion despite the country’s willingness to open up to new media.

Then in came STOMP (Straits Times Online Mobile Print), an online portal by the Singapore Press Holdings. STOMP enables Singaporeans to interact and engage in current affairs of Singapore through the three platforms of online, mobile and print media. (STOMP, 2007) STOMP is meant to pave the way as citizen journalism takes on a whole new meaning. Citizen journalism, also known as "participatory journalism," is the act of citizens "playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information". (Citizen journalism, 2007) Personal journalism has come a long way- from whistleblowers to becoming an emergent force in society. (Gillmor, 2004) While STOMP positions itself as a medium of citizen journalism, I beg to differ. Yes, STOMP offers a variety of topics ranging from where to find the best makan to the really bizarre singlish spotted. It has the participatory elements of allowing average citizens the chance of engaging in the act of journalism and interacting with others about their ideas. But I don’t quite consider it to be pure citizen journalism because while citizen journalism has the total freedom of expression, the information that appears on STOMP is limited and regulated to a certain extent. Cherian George, a former Straits Times reporter gave his definition of citizen journalism, but added that "The potential of citizen journalism today is limited by access to information. For many aspects of life in Singapore, the authorities monopolize information and release it selectively to the accredited media. Citizen journalism has greater potential in countries with Freedom of Information Acts, empowering ordinary citizens to obtain data from the government." (Much ado about citizen journalism, 2006) I think STOMP has that potential, it has definitely encouraged more people to speak up and to contribute to the dissemination of information online. Singaporeans could perhaps be given more discussion channels on sensitive issues like politics instead of being restricted to mainstream topics already set by the editors.

While STOMP is the best form (that we can have) of citizen journalism publicly acknowledged here in Singapore, the country still has a long way to go in reaching the true spirit of citizen journalism.


Brown, M. (2006). S’poreans are fed, up with progress! Retrieved March 30, 2007, from

Citizen journalism. (2007). Retrieved March 30, 2007, from

Giam, G. (2006). Review - The politics of Singapore’s new media in 2006. Retrieved March 30, 2007, from

Gillmor, D. (2004). We the Media. Retrieved March 30, 2007, from

Koh, S. (2000). Speak up if you’re a citizen. Retrieved March 30, 2007, from

Friday, March 16, 2007

QotW7: Twitter For Twits?

I’ve always liked instant messaging. I think it’s probably the greatest thing ever to be invented (after the Internet of course). Being a fiercely loyal consumer of MSN, I was skeptical when I first signed on with Twitter. A quick exploration around the site had me clueless. The name sounded absurd, the lack of security was absurd, even the thought of me using it long-term (not just for the blog assignment) was absurd. I didn’t understand what was going on. I felt like a twit (pun intended) because all I saw was an empty page. It was only after a little trial and error and that friends started to join in I started getting the hang of it. Before I know it, I’m logging in multiple times a day. I never expected myself to get hooked. I like how it connects me to everyone at once, and that I can tell others “what I’m doing right now.” And as I dig deeper, I realize it isn’t just some useless website. It is more than that. Twitter is something that has a life of its own.

Rheingold defines virtual communities as "social aggregations that emerge from the [Internet] when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace”. (Fernback & Thompson, 1995) But it does not necessarily mean that there has to be a strong bond among all the members. For example in Twitter, there is no need for one to know another personally. The adding of friends is not restricted and sorely up to the individual. Twitter to me is considered a virtual community simply because it enables people to interact with one another in the virtual world. The site allows users to send messages via the phone or instant messaging and they can receive updates from other selected users via the web, IM, or SMS. (Twitter, 2007) The term virtual community is more indicative of an assemblage of people being "virtually" a community rather than being a real community. The special thing about virtual communities like these is that despite the lack of social presence, people are still able to sustain productive and supportive relationships. (Wellman et al., 1996) Everything is text-based; what we want to say and how we want to say it is communicated through the keyboard. This works somehow even though one may not know how the other looks like.

Participating in a virtual community is not just about forging relationships. Through Twitter, users can exchange pleasantries and argue, engage in intellectual discourse, conduct commerce, exchange knowledge, share emotional support, make plans, brainstorm, gossip, feud, fall in love, find friends and lose them, play games, flirt, create a little high art and a lot of idle talk. (Fernback & Thompson, 1995) It reminds me a little of IRC (Internet Relay Chat) where information overloads because a huge bunch of people are communicating at the same time and it tends to get messy. With so many useful features available on the site, Twitter has suddenly become more instantaneous than any other IM service. I am now a humbled convert with the many other addicted converts.


Fernback, J., & Thompson, B. (May, 1995). Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure?. Retrieved March 14, 2007 from

Wellman, B., Salaff, J., Dimitrova, D., Garton, L., Gulia, M., & Haythornthwaite, C. (1996). Computer Networks As Social Networks: Collaborative Work,Telework, and Virtual Community. Annual Review of Sociology, 26: 213-238. Retrieved February 7, 2007, from

Twitter (2007). Retrieved March 14, 2007 from

Saturday, March 10, 2007

QotW6: Don't Get Caught In The Act

At “Hollywood’s most hated website”, privacy is the last thing on everyone’s mind. With paparazzi lurking at every corner hoping to get the latest and juiciest gossip, celebrities have to be on their toes all the time- even if it means having to wear underwear and not shaving your own head bald in the middle of the night. The popularity of celebrity gossip sites like Perez Hilton are fueled by the common-folk who yearn to catch a glimpse of how the stars wine, dine, party and self-destruct. Unfortunately, privacy is one privilege that the celebrities can never buy. The paparazzi will always be their shadows. Although we the mere mortals of this world do not have “stalkers” watching our every move, yet we do have our own little grudges about people invading our personal space.

The ironic thing about some bloggers is that they are exhibitionists but at the same time they want to preserve some form of privacy. They want the world to know about their existence therefore every snippet of their life is documented- what they ate (crunchy fried grasshoppers), what they did (tried a bomb experiment in the backyard), what happened (got kidnapped by a psycho), etc. They post pictures of everything- family and friends, their homes, and perhaps even naked torsos. But when they become more prolific, more bloggers find themselves having to deal with issues of privacy and liability. That’s when they start limiting access to readership to their entries. This does not apply though to the A-list bloggers who encourage voyeurism- blog-hopping to read about the happenings in the daily lives of complete strangers. They seem to encourage this by being so open with the intimate details of their lives.

Xiaxue a prominent blogger in Singapore admits regretting some of the things she’s written but she’s fine with being so transparent. “[I regret] things that affect my friend’s privacy that I didn’t really consider and then I just put it online.” But she’s never felt any invasion of privacy with so many pair of eyes reading her blog every day. “I’m ok with it. I never had issues with privacy even when I was younger. I always tell my friends everything.” (Yuen, 2005) In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera examines the phenomenon of graphomania - the pathological desire to express yourself in writing before a public of unknown readers. People are always experiencing the constant din of intimate typing; the information that they give is endless personal disclosure. (Rosen, 2004)

While I do blog, I’m neither catering to a worldwide audience nor hoping to get thousands of hits in a day. My purpose is more intimate- sharing the occurrences in my life with people I know. That said, it means people that I’ve seen and talked to face to face before and not just some complete stranger whom I know by a pseudonym. My entries are locked for friend’s eyes only. I want to keep things safely under personal boundaries; I don’t want to end up having an archive of content that can be used against me. Only when I know the audience I’m writing for I can be comfortable. I certainly don’t want my parents reading my gripes about them or having anonymous comments describing you were sighted where, when, and with whom. The thing is, voyeurism only thrives at the expense of privacy. The more people are willing to sacrifice their privacy, the more voyeurism grows. Back in 2004, Robert Steinbuch, former legal counsel for now-displaced Republican senator Mike DeWine, started an affair with a young woman in his office. The woman was intern-cum-celebrity blogger Jessica Cutler who had been detailing their sexual encounters including tidbits like Steinbuch's spanking habits and dislike of condoms, in her blog, Washingtonienne. (Lafsky, 2006) Steinbuch had to leave D.C in disgrace and he accepted a teaching job in Arkansas, leaving Washington and Jessica behind. Now that the Internet is allowing strangers to observe us even as we observe them, even ordinary citizens like us have to worry more about being caught off guard. (Rosen, 2004) At Perez Hilton, the celebrities don’t even think about escaping.


Lafsky, M. (2006). Sex, Bloggers & Privacy: Let The Lawsuits Begin. Retrieved March 10, 2007, from

Rosen, J. (2004). The Naked Crowd. Retrieved March 10, 2007, from

Yuen, Y. Y. (2005). People. Retrieved March 10, 2007, from