Monday, April 18, 2005

Local blogsphere, meet mainstream media

So I've always been interested at the relationship of the online and the offline world, and how the 'fringes' of online debate can spill onto the traditional media like TVLand. CBS' Dan Rather's final nail in the coffin was supplied by rightwing bloggers when they did an amazing job of fact-checking and debate about the faked Bush memo. The vast left wing conspiracy is also now a force to be reckoned with; the founder of the most popular US political blog, DailyKos, gave an excellent interview recently on C-SPAN describing what blogging is and the direction the medium is progressing towards. Last month, Margo Kingston of the Sydney Morning Herald's WedDiary (and what a remarkable webdiary this is despite its generic name) came to Uni to give a lecture about blogging ("The citizen as a journalist", online streaming lecture). So, things are on the roll, well, at least, it's a start. Journalists know that the blogsphere isn't necessary a competitor, but a partner that can supplement their work. Readers would want this arrangement too to ensure a separation of powers between the corporate/government and objective reporting. This is particular urgent in Singapore which has essentially only one popular broadsheet The Straits Times, where there is no 'free press' and views are generally skewed towards government's position. The Information Minister has announced that 'special circumstances' require such measures. And we, the citizens, believe it. Fortunately, things have gotten better over the years, but there's still much to be desired. Anyhow, we wait for the day when the local online presence and blogsphere will create an impact on local mainstream news media! Yeah! Well, it has just happened. Unfortunately, the news that was broken is not a particularly happy one. It involves the revelation of particular strong and crude racial remarks from a state-sponsored PSC scholar studying in the US that's found in his blog. The guy, being a maths major, probably underestimated the power of Google and did not provide enough password protection to limit access. The PSC is now investigating this 'incident'. So, the story broke from one local blog to another, and to the SPUG forum where I'm the chief forum moderator, and finally to the Sunday Times yesterday. I'm not exactly sure whether the reporter from the newspaper picked up the story directly from our website, but a forum member was misquoted in the article, so maybe that is a possibility. Possible progression of news at Singapore Angle and AcidFlask. If it's any other kind of news story, I'd have gone, like, "Oh, great!" But this one directly involves the possible future of a young adult who isn't aware of the implications of his words (yes, I know, my understatement of the week.) and who is totally unprepared for the explosion that might happen. Anyway, mob mentality naturally results, with people demanding the termination of his sponsorship, understandably. (Singapore has its own variation of the tall poppy syndrome.) Others prefer to discuss the context of those remarks, the unexceptional racism that implicitly exists, the other sorts of discrimination that's explicit in our society, and related privacy issues. Personally, if I view this from the context and perspective of a blog as an artist's canvas (having done online things for more than seven years myself), I'm not convinced that the guy should be destroyed. It has not passed the threshold of 'beyond a shadow of doubt'. In stats terms, p > .05. For bloggers and online diarists, this has quite a few levels of ethical issues intertwined, and there is no precedent for us to rely on. The judgment that we as bloggers pronounce may one day come back and haunt us. To what extent do we need to secure our online speech? How much free speech should there be? Is, say, LiveJournal's 'friends only' protection enough? What if one 'friend' leaks it to the press? If I'm in the 'circle of trust' of a scholar's online journal, should I report something I don't like about his or her opinions to the press? Should I be doing what the folks in the Cultural Revolution did, report my friends and families? Should I be reporting my friend's illegal stash of songs in his iPod to get the reward? Should I call up Microsoft's piracy department to discuss my boss's weird software in his PC? So, I think, let's not be too hasty to hang the guy, and ourselves at the same time. Amidst all this confusion, I think one of the more important problems is this: OK, I would go underground with my racist statements, but I'd still continue believing the stuff. This last outcome is probably the worst that can happen in our story. Two justifications for a severe punishment that some are advocating are that, one, he's using taxpayers for his education, and two, that in the future he might become a Minister, and woe to the country if we have racist ministers. So, to investigate if current ministers have considerable racists views, I went to google the library. So these are quotes, done in a very academic/rational/calm/sophisticated manner, from a still-serving, top local civil servant. Actually, it's Minister Lee, who currently conducts a Mentorship program for new ministers.
The Bell curve is a fact of life. The blacks on average score 85% on IQ and it is accurate, nothing to do with culture. The whites score on average 100. Asians score more... the Bell curve authors put it at least 10 points higher. These are realities that, if you do not accept, will lead to frustration because you will be spending money on wrong assumptions and the results cannot follow. (Emphasis mine.) (Han, Fernandez, & Tan, 1998, p. 153) "Now, we did try wherever possible, wherever more would bring about better performance. Never mind if it brings about equal results. If better housing, better health, better schools can bring about better results, let's help them. But we know that we cannot close the gap. In other words, this Bell curve, which Murray and Herrnstein wrote about, became obvious to us by the late '60s." (Han et al., p. 157) "I started off believing all men were equal. I now know that's the most unlikely thing ever to have been, because millions of years have passed over evolution, people have scattered across the face of this earth, been isolated from each other, developed independently, had different intermixtures between races, peoples, climates, soils... I didn't start off with that knowledge. But by observation, reading, watching, arguing, asking, that is the conclusion I've come to." (Han et al., p. 175)
So, if my skin colour is #000000, I'm expected to be more silly and stupid. If my skin colour is #FFFFFF, it's good, but not good enough. If my skin colour is #FFCC33, then I'll be the most clever! Actually, kudos to the ST editors for providing freedom of speech, and not editing out the controversial bits. And I applaud Sumiko and company for their sensitivity in drawing out this aspect of his persona. The thing is, most of us, if not all, hold racist (and other discriminatory) opinions, one way or another, to a greater or less extent. It's just human nature. My point is, come on, let he who...something something...throw the first stone. At the very least, let this not be a lynch mob, but a chance to debate the issue in our heads with ourselves, and with others, instead of just doing away with the fall guy. This is a tricky start for the relationship between the blogsphere with the mainstream media; we'll see where this goes... PS. Boys and girls, don't believe the Bell Curve hypothesis, OK? It's been largely debunked!! ------- Han, F. K., Fernandez, W., & Tan, S. (1998). Lee Kuan Yew: The man and his ideas. Singapore: Straits Times Press.

6 comments:

nilsinelabore said...

I put up a similar question in my own blog.

Huichieh said...

"Possible progression of news at Singapore Serf and AcidFlask."

Should be "Singapore Angle and..." Thanks.

Huichieh said...

Trackback: From a Singapore Angle, "Anatomy of a blogospheric event"

What have we learned? What ought we have done better? What does it portent for the Singapore Blogosphere? While chewing on these questions, I made a list of all the bloggers who posted on the event...

akikonomu said...

What have we learnt?

That it's easier to slam a mere scholar for racist remarks, while completely avoiding the fact that a minister recently got away with making similar remarks (It's nighttime in Little India!) a few years ago - during an election rally?

If there is indeed a genuine urge to hunt down and hang the scholar, I'd prefer that Singaporean bloggers keep on referring to the incident with the minister as well.

cowboycaleb said...

your hexa code for skin colour is a classic.

hahaha.

Huichieh said...

PSC has officially reprimanded the scholar.