Events

Online Media: Bane or Boon?

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Online media has played a significant role in democratising knowledge, encouraging conversation globally and is proving to be a phenomenon that’s here to stay. With the amount of disruption it can cause, to what extent can we justify the consequent disruptions to life, security and stability in the name of democracy and accountability? Is this in fact a necessary purgatorial step to a new, more balanced order? How has this played out socio-politically in Singapore? And where is this possibly headed to?

These important questions were the focus of THF’s public lecture on 31 October 2016, featuring Mr Viswa Sadasivan, Founder and CEO of Strategic Moves and former Nominated Member of Parliament who took the audience through the insightful discussion.

Disruption, not just in technology but in ideas and processes, and how we deal with them has come to the forefront public discussion. Also an important concept to note is partisan perception which underscores the power of online media. And in this era, it has become increasingly important to accept that others can have different views especially with “Davids” being able to topple “Goliaths.”

What is it about online media that causes such disruptions? It is not subjected to the same level of stringency of editorial accountability unlike mainstream media and represents the voice of the people. There is relative anonymity (although there is a shift to accountability as well as more sites require users to provide more personal details). Even with government restrictions or mainstream media holding back on covering news there is always a possibility of leaks happening through online media by discontented users who cannot get the news out through mainstream platforms.

This power of social media to disseminate information and organise movements was demonstrated during the Arab Spring in 2011 and the Euromaidan protests in Ukraine in 2014. In Singapore, politicians have shown an awareness of online media’s potential to move the needle with many actively engaging in social media and the Prime Minister himself making time to post and acquiring a massive following.

Governments worldwide have responded differently to this phenomenon, ranging from suppressing, regulating or fully embracing it. In the US, Obama’s savvy use of online media enabled him to raise US$800 million in funds for his 2008 presidential campaign and manage opposing views against Obamacare. Singapore has adopted a more cautious approach, with policies to regulate socio-political sites such as requiring them to have a licence to operate in 2013 and putting up a performance bond of $50,000 if they have at least 50,000 unique visitors per month. The administration of justice act which was rolled out recently could mean online posts on rulings can be deemed as contempt of court. According to Mr Sadasivan, such measures may create an environment of distrust.

Mr Sadasivan then introduced his past venture Inconvenient Questions, a video-based site that provided a safe environment to air views, and a neutral space that allowed for critical views. The encouraging response this received indicated that there are enough varying voices that would like to be heard.

Concluding his talk, he traced the trends of mainstream and online media and the political leanings they have shifted to throughout the years.

He then addressed the audience’s questions which included the dynamic between mainstream and online media (especially in how it can get compelling stories from the raw footage found in social media), and the crucial role of online media during a crisis.