I participated in the closed-door discussion titled, 'Civility in cyberspace: Going beyond laws to self-regulation?' yesterday, which was organised by the Institute of Policy Studies.
It was brought up at the discussion that the intent of the proposed code of conduct is to make the internet less toxic. My question is, less toxic to who? Bloggers view the code of conduct with suspicion because of 3 letters - PAP.
Combating falsehoods and respecting differing views are two of the purposes of the proposed code of conduct. The questions then are, who determines 'falsehoods'? Is respect for differing views the same as 'don't challenge my views robustly'?
Those that subscribe to such a code can be publicly 'shamed' for 'breaking' the set rules in the code, to which they subscribed to. And naming and shaming people who have differences of opinions and those that defend these differences strongly, is not something new for the PAP government.
Even a senior civil servant who shared at the closed-door discussion, could not say how much of this need for a new code is driven by politics.
But he said that the civil service has observed other blogs (some of which are even anonymous) from other countries and the exchanges in these blogs were much more civil than they are here in Singapore. Because the senior civil servant did not mention which countries these are, I am assuming that they are countries with a longer history of democracy than Singapore's. If that is so, it is quite understandable because they would have matured in having a civil discourse - not so much because they have a code of conduct, but because of pluralism.
If there is little civility in the cyberspace of Singapore, it is because it has been ruled by one Party for over 50 years and this Party has clamped down on all other dissenting views for that many years. The open internet has become the one last bastion of freedom, and so it is quite understandable if the opinions expressed therein are more hostile - especially to the PAP.
The quest for civility in the internet, is also tied to Singapore's effort to be a more gracious society. We have been trying for so many years, without being that very successful - Why? Because the leaders have not emphasised on conscience as much as they have on competition.
We are never going to have a gracious society until and unless we become more conscionable. So yeah, reform the laws and policies to be more conscionable and greater graciousness and civility will follow - both in the online as well as the offline world.
Until then, PLEASE LEAVE THE INTERNET ALONE!