The Straits Times
Published on Jan 10, 2013

Restore discipline in social media


FOR those of us who believe that political discourse should be conducted in a serious and honest manner, the proliferation of social media has been a bane ("PM asks blogger to remove 'defamatory post'"; last Saturday).

Witness the number of baseless accusations that have been made on the Internet. In what we call the "new normal", this decline in standards has become worse.

Although under the law, there is no difference between the responsibilities of an Internet publisher and a print publisher, social bloggers have sought a degree of immunity as they regard the Net as "free" media.

In some cases, when Internet publishers were sent a lawyer's letter, they quickly apologised and removed the defamatory postings, only to surface a few months later with another defamatory posting.

The speed at which they recanted their allegations suggests that they knew what they posted was defamatory in the first place.

What is also interesting is their taking advantage of the "resident" nature of the Internet, where articles remain in cyberspace until they are removed.

If given a time period to delete a certain posting, they would stretch it until almost the end of the deadline, thereby eking out as much mileage as possible.

So we have bloggers whose integrity is highly questionable.

But is their standing in the social media community damaged by their apologies? Hardly.

One need only read the visitors' comments on the sites that have apologised for their postings to confirm this.

Like a gang leader who gains respect by having gone to jail, these bloggers get more respect after having "taken on" the establishment.

I hope that we put an end to this state of affairs.

The way to do this is for those who have been wrongly accused to sue the culprits for defamation.

Obviously, this would spark an outcry in certain circles.

But integrity and honesty are virtues we need to protect as a society.

We need to restore some discipline in social media, and hopefully this becomes the "new normal".

Tan Ying San