TOR CHING LI
SOME Workers’ Party members have recently become entangled in an Internet forum “brawl”, with mudslinging and namecalling aplenty – to the extent of sparking a thread on the Young People’s Action Party online forum entitled “WP members being complained (sic) on internet forums”. This has garnered more than 80 postings since Oct 14.
One netizen, Mohammad Razari – who claims to be a third-year Singapore Polytechnic electrical engineering student residing in Hougang Ave 1 and says he is a former participant in WP’s outreach programmes – sent a complaint letter to WP chairman Sylvia Lim and secretary-general Low Thia Khiang, citing what he thought to be unacceptable online conduct by WP members such as party webmaster Goh Meng Seng.
He said Mr Goh, a computer retail businessman, was narrow-minded to have called a forum participant “scheming” and “lacking in integrity” after “losing an argument”. He also thought Mr Goh had threatened to sue another forum participant for implying that Mr Goh visited the http://www.sggirls.com forum.
In general, WP members were accused of being “argumentative”, attempting to “sow discord” between various party supporters and even of taking the guise of online “clones” – or posting replies under alternative usernames – to “influence perception”.
These online rumblings are reflected on Sammyboy threads called “Complaint letter to WP Central Executive Committee” and “Any respond (sic), follow up from Sylvia and WP?” with more than 40 and nearly 200 postings respectively.
When approached by TODAY for a response, Mr Goh clarified he had “categorically said (he) will not sue” the forum participant for his misinformed statement. He explained the SG Girls forum shared the same database as http://www.sgforums.com, and that he does not frequent the former site.
As for his harsh words used on the forum participant, Mr Goh said: “What I said could have been harsh but you have to look at it in context. People who argue with me will find me argumentative. But since his agenda is questionable, I am not going to engage him in discussions any more.”
Mr Goh, who has been active in the forum scene since 2003, said he still thinks Internet forums are a good venue to answer critics and eventually win them over. Nevertheless, he added that postings on such freewheeling forums “have to be taken with a pinch of salt”.
As with all things online, not every posting can be taken at face value. WP Youth Wing president Perry Tong recently filed a police report after someone impersonated his identity on the Sammyboy online forums – also on Oct 14, coincidentally.
In the impersonated posting, “Perry Tong” sent WP member “Melvin Tan” a message that read: “We must keep ‘forumers’ here constantly updated about WP activities. Keep clear of mudslinging and personal attacks. I have already instructed Meng Seng and Andrew to stop.”
In an email response to TODAY, WP chairman Ms Lim said: “We are aware that there is activity in the Sammyboy forums involving WP members. Such communications are engaged in the personal capacity of the members concerned as we have not appointed any official spokesman for Internet communications. The official position of the party is to be found on our website and official statements issued.”
Ms Lim added the party is reviewing some existing “general guidelines” for office bearers regarding Internet communications, “with a view to issuing some guidelines to all members”.
In view of the online backlash to WP’s presence, Internet observer Siew Kum Hong said: “One really has to be very disciplined and restrained when participating in such forums. If one engages long enough in such a medium, it is inevitable there will be a backlash from the community. It’s then a question of how one deals with it. This is probably why you don’t see the PAP MPs engaging in such Internet forums.”
In channels such as blogs or websites – which are employed by PAP MPs, such as the http://www.p65.sg site – one can control one’s message and how one chooses to engage the public, he said.
Nanyang Technological University Associate Professor in Political Science, Prof Ho Khai Leong believes both extremes – that of the MPs’ aim to “reach, teach and preach” and the netizens’ mission to “analyse, scrutinise and criticise” – will help mould cyberspace.
He said: “Both these approaches, in their extreme forms, will no doubt invite criticisms, which I think is healthy. As political blogs and bloggers and forumers mature and become more mundane – as we are seeing in many blogs – the more serious and thoughtful blogs and forums will make the more absurd and outlandish ones irrelevant in our everyday discourse of politics in cyberspace.”