Early intervention better, before emotions get inflamed and it gets hard to calm people down: DPM Teo
by Teo Xuanwei
04:45 AM Apr 29, 2012
SINGAPORE - It is easy to call for the Internet and social media to be open and free from regulation - but when someone "dear and near" gets affected because of it, most people would want intervention, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
Speaking yesterday at the National Community Engagement Programme (CEP) dialogue, Mr Teo highlighted the Internet and social media as one of three driving forces whose impact on the cohesion of our society can be "double-edged".
The Internet and social media can be "an enabler of active citizenry and positive change" but "can (also) disrupt social order and harmony", he said.
"You will have people who can conduct themselves properly, and you can have a good, civilised society ... but you will always have people who exploit the orderliness for their own purposes," said Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister. "I think when things do become disorderly, uncivil or bordering on extremism or violence, then there's usually a necessity, and even a desire on most people's part, to want something to be done."
Hence, a fine balance has to be struck between allowing free expression online and exercising some check, he said.
"At some point in time, there is a need for some organisation - whether it is self-policing or the state to step in," said Mr Teo. Early intervention is better because "if we take a step too late ... emotions would have already been inflamed and it would be hard to calm people down again."
Since last November, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, has been encouraging the Internet community here to come up with a code of conduct as a means to self-regulate. But several well-known bloggers and owners of socio-political websites have opposed such a move, with some saying they saw it as a way for the Government to control free speech online.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing said: "We must agree that (the Internet) is our space ... so I would encourage everyone using and interacting in that space to come forward and define that space. Collectively, we will define the norms that we would like to see being exhibited in that space."
About 600 community and grassroots leaders attended the annual National CEP dialogue to discuss ways to strengthen the Republic's social cohesion and resilience to crises.
Along with Mr Teo and Mr Chan, Dr Yaacob, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Swee Say and Minister of State for Manpower and National Development Tan Chuan-Jin also held discussions with the participants.
The question of how free the Internet should be cropped up in Mr Tan's session. He said differing levels of maturity and sensitivity among netizens throw up questions worth pondering on, such as whether the voices online represent the majority - and, if not, should we allow the minority to dictate our views and lives.
The other two driving forces that Mr Teo highlighted were globalisation and extremism.
Increased flows of people and ideas across the world can improve cross-cultural understanding, but more diverse peoples living in a dense city like ours can also result in "greater consciousness of the differences in behaviour and norms", he said.
Terrorist groups can also spread their ideological messages more quickly and further today - but the threat of extremism can also rally people to collectively fight for peace and harmony, he added.