It’s a real shame that The Real Singapore has been effectively banned by the MDA.
Now, I’m no supporter of TRS. I think the articles it posts are stridently anti-foreigner, filled with falsehoods, and designed to mislead. I’ve also fallen victim to its questionable editorial tactics – when I was still chairperson of Raffles Press, TRS shamelessly took one of the editorials I wrote and re-posted it without my consent. It is not, by any measure, the voice of the average Singaporean.
However, the one thing I hate more than TRS is the government’s willingness to use the law to pummel opponents into silence. Yes, of course the government doesn’t stop ‘reasonable’ politicians like those in the WP from speaking. Of course the government still allows ‘rational’ platforms like Mothership.sg to exist. I will concede outright that any Singaporean can share their honest opinions, provided that they are moderate and substantiated.
But this still isn’t the kind of society I want to live in. I don’t want to live in a Singapore where our instinctive response to idiocy is the heavy hand of state legislation. I don’t want to live in a Singapore which rejoices when a teenage boy is remanded in Changi Prison for a moment of immaturity on YouTube. I don’t want to live in a vindictive Singapore which repays intolerance with intolerance.
We must not kid ourselves into believing that the death of TRS means the death of xenophobia and hate-mongering in Singapore. The online commentators who want to “send the PRCs home” will simply migrate to the HardwareZone or STOMP. The people who contribute to TRS will vent their anger on their own blogs, or over a jug of beer in the neighbourhood coffee shop. The xenophobes will still vote against the PAP at the next General Election, and throng opposition rallies with fervour.
Banning TRS doesn’t make the spread of lies and anti-foreigner sentiment harder. It only makes it less visible. Just because TRS was popular doesn’t mean that it was persuasive. Many netizens were quick to point out the numerous mistruths the TRS editors were guilty of propagating. Social Studies teachers used TRS as an example of irresponsible and biased journalism. Politicians stood up to refute the content of many of its articles. Ask any reasonable Singaporean about their first impression of TRS, and I guarantee they won’t say “trustworthy and well-researched political website.”
In short, people already loved to hate on TRS. And those who frequented TRS won’t suddenly become pro-immigration just because the government banned a single platform for xenophobia. In fact, they’ll probably become even less receptive to government rhetoric, because the MDA has confirmed their worst fears about state censorship.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the MDA was right. Let’s assume that TRS was responsible for thousands of otherwise reasonable Singaporeans becoming irrational xenophobes, thanks to its anti-foreigner articles. If that’s the case, then the government cannot ever claim that Singapore is racially and religiously harmonious. If a discredited website run by three amateurs could undermine the social fabric of our nation, then our supposedly robust and resilient racial-religious harmony is but a happy delusion. Surely fifty years of nation building can’t be threatened by some second-rate news site.
So if we accept this premise, then the success of TRS in peddling lies and hatred rests on the government’s failure to counter its false narratives. Perhaps students weren’t properly educated on how to be intelligent and discriminating when surfing the web. Perhaps our politicians were unable to convince Singaporeans that foreigners are here to help, rather than hinder, us. Perhaps pro-government websites were incapable of appealing to emotion and passion in the same way that TRS was able to. And that’s not the fault of TRS – that’s the fault of the government for eschewing impassioned rhetoric and ignoring the emotional and irrational needs that we all have. It seems so counter-intuitive that a website which bases many of its articles on falsehoods can somehow be more alluring than the truth. It takes real talent to lose a debate when the facts and weight of evidence are on your side.
It also annoys me to no end that people will soon trot out the “Singaporean society is still immature! We must ban these views till we are mature enough to handle them!” argument. It is painfully naïve to think that by living within a hermetically sealed bubble of PG opinions, we will naturally develop the maturity to deal with extreme and questionable views. If you believe that Singaporean society is not yet ready to counter sites like TRS, then Singaporean society will never be ready. We will forever exist within the safe space of government-approved discourse, fearing to engage arguments that differ wildly from our beliefs. Much like real life maturity, social maturity is not a function of age – it is a function of experience. And the less we are willing to experience and deal with as a society, the less mature we are doomed to be.
It saddens me that even as more Singaporeans become politically active, and more people are willing to share their thoughts thanks to the Internet, we have become more exclusionary as a society. We seek to ban things we dislike. We seek to jail people we hate. We seek to kick out those we feel “do not share in our Asian values”. We have allowed our space for disagreement to shrink, and our capacity for intolerance to expand. The recent decision to revoke the license of TRS is but an example of this.
Why can’t we denounce something without wanting to eradicate it as well?