Don't ignore positive aspects of social media

Because social media is often characterised as the "Wild Wild West" - where "a single individual is able to offend large numbers with careless abandon" with ease and speed ("When social media turns antisocial"; last Wednesday) and where Internet mobs take it upon themselves to mete out justice - the corresponding abilities of users to respond positively have been ignored.

Past incidents in Singapore have shown that our netizens are capable of countering these negative displays by, for instance, calling out friends when inappropriate remarks are made, criticising unfounded attacks without basis and using reason to discuss socio-political issues related to race or religion.

The editorial suggests that there may be a correlation between more persons being investigated under the Sedition Act or the Penal Code for racially and religiously related offences and the greater accessibility of online platforms, but it could also be a more active citizenry challenging longstanding boundaries via social media.

What used to be a free-for-all environment has been shaped by past incidents and continuing interactions, and users, cognisant of the consequences of irresponsible speech, are now quick to fact check and/or have grown sceptical of dubious information.

Some have articulated the concept of a "neighbourhood watch", through which users police one another as they grow familiar with the norms and boundaries online. These norms and boundaries are rewritten constantly, as more people get involved in these conversations.

It may be true that online sharing platforms "magnify behaviour that is antisocial and divisive and multiply the effects of thoughtless comments based on differences of race, religion and nationality".

Yet, it should also be said that online platforms have magnified behaviour that is social and constructive, and have multiplied the effects of sensible comments, including those based on sensitive subjects.

Mentions of these positives are hard to come by, which is a shame because they reflect a diversity of users who check one another in this "Wild Wild West".

Through active moderation and quality content, Singaporeans can be encouraged to not only leave their echo chambers, but also to watch what they say on the Internet.

Over time, the most well-reasoned posts and personalities gain traction, drowning out the rabble-rousers and bigots.

Learning how to navigate online spaces will have implications on media regulation, how the Government uses platforms for feedback, and the continued empowerment of a civil society.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'Don't ignore positive aspects of social media'. Print Edition | Subscribe