The Online Citizen to resume publication after obtaining new hardware, says editor

Police officers had seized equipment used to run The Online Citizen from chief editor Terry Xu's home on Nov 20, 2018. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

SINGAPORE - Sociopolitical website The Online Citizen (TOC) resumed publication on Monday (Nov 26), after it received donations from the public to buy computer hardware needed to continue its operations.

The site suspended publication last Tuesday (Nov 20) when police officers seized electronic equipment - including desktop computers, mobile devices and laptops - from the home of TOC chief editor Terry Xu.

The devices were taken for police investigations into alleged criminal defamation over an article TOC published recently on comments made by MP Seah Kian Peng.

Mr Xu, who announced the resumption on Monday, also wrote on the website that a fund-raising campaign would be carried out soon.

"Given the possibility that our current revenue stream may be affected, there's an immediate need to address this," he said in a phone interview.

He also told The Straits Times that he expects legislation in the future to target the digital advertising revenue of websites "which dabble in, quote-unquote, falsehoods".

In September 2018, a parliamentary Select Committee tasked to find ways to fight fake news published a list of recommendations, which included laws that could cut off digital advertising revenue to those who spread online falsehoods.

Mr Xu wrote that in the light of the coming general election, he was also raising money to expand his team. Mr Xu currently runs TOC himself, with volunteer writers and editors.

"There is an urgent need to ensure that the publication is able to run even with me behind bars, especially during the election period," he wrote on the website.

Since news of police investigations into TOC broke last Tuesday, Mr Xu said the website has attracted about 20 new subscribers, via content subscription service Patreon.

These newcomers add another US$200 (S$270) every month to the current S$1,200 TOC gets monthly through Patreon. This revenue is used to pay for site hosting and freelance writers.

Mr Xu further wrote: "With your support, my team and I pledge to continue our work till the day we have exhausted all available resources or (are) forced to have our operations ceased."

The article over which TOC is being investigated was published on Sept 4 in the form of a letter written by a Willy Sum.

Titled "The take away from Seah Kian Ping's Facebook post", the article was in response to comments Mr Seah had made on Facebook over a meeting between several Singaporean activists and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in August. The article misspelt Mr Seah's name in its headline.

Mr Xu said that on Sept 18, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) ordered TOC to take down the article, and he complied the same day. On Oct 4, the IMDA filed a police report, he added.

The IMDA said last week that it made a police report because the TOC article had made serious allegations that undermine the public's confidence in the Government's integrity.

Asked about their investigations into TOC, the police said last week the article made serious allegations that "the Government's highest officers are corrupt and that the Constitution has been tampered with".

Mr Xu said the writer of the article, who uses the pen name Willy Sum, was questioned by the police on Monday (Nov 26).

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.