The Country With The Giant Ferris Wheel

Singapore is an interesting country. It is a highly developed first world nation. It ranks as the third most competitive economic city after New York (1st) and London (2nd). (1) The one city nation has been ranked as the second best city in Asia in which to live. (2) In a ranking of the countries with the greatest business investment potential, Singapore ranks as number one in the world. (3)

However, there is one important way in which Singapore differs from most western countries, particularly the United States of America. The Singaporean government has been guilty of imposing horrendous restrictions on free speech, restrictions that the U.S. government, or many other western governments, would never have the ability to impose. In 2010 British journalist Alan Shadrake was jailed for six weeks for writing a book critical of Singapore’s former chief executioner Darshan Singh. (4) In 2006, a Singaporean politician named Dr. Chee Soon Juan was imprisoned for leading a protest. Since 1963 countless citizens have been sued and/or jailed for criticizing the government. (5) Singaporeans even feared for their lives if they criticized the state. (5)

But, just like in many other countries, social media is bringing a tidal wave of change to the political landscape. The government has traditionally controlled television, radio and print media through tight regulations. However, the country has less strict controls on the Internet than more totalitarian nations like China and North Korea. This has led to an explosion of speech on the Internet critical of the People’s Action Party (PAP), the political party that has controlled the government since the 1960’s. (5) Sources of such criticism include The Online Citizen whose Facebook page can be viewed here https://www.facebook.com/theonlinecitizen/. As well as Youtube celebrity Amos Yee whose video celebrating the death of former PAP Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jMODDfNE0Y.

Expressions of anti-PAP sentiment on social media become so forceful and so numerous in Singapore that they started to dominate all political discussion in Singapore. In fact, “anti-PAP sentiments on Facebook and Twitter had reached such incredible heights that people who “dared to criticize the opposition” or advocate the capabilities of the PAP, would be ostracized by the online community.” (5) Singaporean blogger Wendy Cheng, a.k.a. Xiaxue, was savaged online after she had espoused support for PAP policies on her blog. The resentment towards her from those on the Internet was so fierce that advertisers were forced to cease advertising on her blog in order to protect their public image. (5) Singaporean online political commentator Moh Hon Meng, who wrote a Facebook post entitled “In Defence of the PAP” stated “now online sentiment for the PAP has turned so overwhelmingly negative that I’m afraid to post this!” (5)

Attacks on the People’s Action Party became so ubiquitous on social media that the party’s supporters decided that they needed to fight back. A few years ago a group was started called Silent No More. The aim of the group is to defend the PAP against what they see as false accusations on social media. The group seems to be made up mostly of young people, which is not surprising considering that the group’s domain is social media. Their name is a reference to the supposed “silent majority” of Singaporeans who support the PAP. (6) One online observer asserted that the group engages in “guerilla-type activism.” (6) He stated, “If there is an anti-establishment comment in the Facebook page of a news portal, the first responses are often pro-establishment ones.” (6) Some credit the Silent No More with contributing strongly to the PAP’s recent electoral success.

Like the United States, politics in Singapore are going through drastic changes due to social media. There does not yet seem to be any Singaporean equivalent to Donald Trump but as politics in that country becomes increasing effected by social media, one master manipulator of the medium (the Singaporean Donald Trump) will probably emerge some day.

  1. https://freespeechfreepress.wordpress.com/singapore/http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-11763031
  2. https://www.edb.gov.sg/content/edb/en/why-singapore/about-singapore/facts-and-rankings/rankings.html
  3. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-11763031
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chee_Soon_Juan
  5. http://www.businessinsider.com/singapore-politics-have-been-changed-forever-by-social-media-2011-5
  6. http://www.straitstimes.com/politics/supporters-seek-to-amplify-pap-voice-online

3 comments

  1. Interesting post. It is pretty clear that social media has become increasingly important in politics no matter the country. I think that social media does a pretty good job of establishing freedom of speech because of the wide audience and how fast something can travel. I do find it interesting that there has been an equal fight back on social media of supporters of the PAP. I would not have expected that. I also think, as you said, that a “master manipulator” of social media could do extremely well in politics especially in a country where political manipulation rules/laws are not as strong.

  2. Very informative read here. I found it interesting that social media in Singapore expresses so much strong anti-establishment sentiment that expressing pro-establishment thoughts is not very popular. This seems to be the opposite of what I would have expected. Makes me wonder whether the overall content of social media is mostly conformist or non-conformist – I’m sure it differs by country. It will be interesting to see what other changes arise in Singapore as a result of the powerful tool that is social media.

  3. Really nice post. I always like to hear about the application of Sm in other countries and business environments that are different than those in the US.

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