Reach's anti-trolling move: Postings 'may dip, then rise'

Safe online forum will spur participation: Amy Khor


The Government's feedback arm, Reach, expects fewer online comments initially when a new rule kicks in on Thursday, requiring people to log in first with their Facebook accounts.

But it is hopeful that, eventually, more people will give their views, its chairman Amy Khor told The Straits Times. "Over time, as users recognise that we provide a safe online forum for robust, open and healthy conversations on national issues and that we do not curtail any views, we think more will come to join the discussion," said Dr Khor, who is also the Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower.

Her remarks on the possible impact of its new policy come two weeks after the move was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a speech urging Singaporeans to fight back against the global phenomenon of trolling, in which people post offensive or provocative messages to upset or anger others.

Blaming online anonymity for encouraging trolling, Mr Lee called on other websites that desire constructive discussions to follow in Reach's footsteps.

Overseas sites, like sports channel, that introduced some form of identification saw a drop in comments, but reported greater civility in discourse.

The Reach forum currently has a registration system, but most contributors choose to be anonymous, said its spokesman.

Trolling comments on its online forum make up 8 per cent of the more than 2,000 comments it receives on average every month.

These typically are from anonymous users who make inflammatory remarks and hurl names such as "snake" and "bigot" at those whom they disagree with. As a result, serious discussions are disrupted and deteriorate into personal attacks, said the spokesman.

Others made off-topic remarks in serious discussion threads. These included postings on a sex case in a discussion about Singapore's economic growth, and anti-casino comments in population and manpower discussion threads, she added.

The Facebook log-in gives some degree of user authentication and instils a sense of social responsibility, she said.

"It is never our intention to curtail freedom of expression or restrict alternative views. But as the Reach discussion forum is a public online space for Singaporeans to give feedback and views on government policies and national issues, it is important that Reach provides a safe environment where healthy and constructive discourse can take place."

With the change, she added, the time spent weeding out trolls can be put to "engaging contributors who are willing to be identified with their views".

National University of Singapore Students' Union president Soh Yi Da, 24, supports the new Reach policy. It is not just to fight trolling, but more so that it allows him to know the background and context of the person posting a comment, said the political science undergraduate.

Raising the tone of online debate

Trolling can be harmless or downright malicious

How registration has fared elsewhere

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