ST Feb 3, 2007
PAP moves to counter criticism of party, Govt in cyberspace
By Li Xueying
THE People's Action Party (PAP) is mounting a quiet counter-insurgency against its online critics.
It has members going into Internet forums and blogs to rebut anti-establishment views and putting up postings anonymously.
Sources told The Straits Times the initiative is driven by two sub-committees of the PAP's 'new media' committee chaired by Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen.
Two big surprises, in the 1st three paragraphs.
The 1st surprise is that the PAP would resort to this strategy of covert operations on the Internet. It's very unlike the PAP. Certainly it's very unlike Lee Kuan Yew. LKY is the kind of leader who always does what he thinks is right, even when he knows it will be unpopular. Next he will come out into the open to robustly defend and argue his own position - and that's when we get to see his mighty intellect in full swing.
Through the years, that's how Lee Kuan Yew has traditionally tackled all his critics - whether they were foreign journalists, human rights groups, or local small fry like Ken Kwek. If nothing else, you have to give LKY credit for the strength of his personal convictions.
And now ... the PAP is going to resort to anonymous postings? Oh dear. I don't think I am the only Singaporean who will find this a little sad. I wonder what LKY's personal opinion on this new strategy really is.
The 2nd surprise lies in these words: "Sources told the Straits Times ...". In mediaspeak, this means that someone leaked the information to the press, on condition that he not be named. The Straits Times, seeking independent verification, managed to get it. That's why the article refers to "sources" (the plural indicates at least two sources).
In the first place, only PAP members would know about this new strategy. So we can make a good guess that it must have been a PAP member who leaked the story. Why would he do so - what is his motivation? I could speculate, but let's not go that far.
One sub-committee, co-headed by Minister of State (Education) Lui Tuck Yew and Hong Kah GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, strategises the campaign.
The other is led by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Baey Yam Keng and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Josephine Teo. Called the 'new media capabilities group', it executes the strategies.
Both were set up after last year's General Election. Aside from politicians, some 20 IT-savvy party activists are also involved.
When contacted, Mr Baey declined to give details of the group's activities, but he outlined the broad principles of the initiative.
After this ST article, the P65 blog will probably find itself endlessly dogged with conspiracy theories. Every time anyone says anything nice about P65, someone else will say: "Bah, it's probably a P65 member anonymously posting compliments about himself." Credibility destroyed.
Yes, the comments on the Internet are very skewed. PAP MP Denise Phua mentioned it before and I agreed with her. In fact, I had previously written a long post about it. An extract from that old post of mine:
It was necessary for the PAP to have a voice in cyberspace as there were few in the online community who were pro-establishment, he said.
As such, the committees aim to 'observe how new media is developing and see how we can use the new media as part of the overall media landscape', he added.
'How do we facilitate views that are pro-party and propagate them through the Internet?'
The approach reflects comments by Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui at the PAP's party conference in December. He called on younger activists to put up views 'to moderate the vitriol and balance the skewed comments' on the Internet.
If you want to know, click on the link and read my old post. Moving on, let's look at the next part of the ST article:
One point to note is that the Internet is accessible to everyone, regardless of his political inclinations. If you are pro-PAP, you can hop onto the Internet and write pro-PAP comments. If you are anti-PAP, you can also hop onto the Internet and write your anti-PAP comments (albeit with slightly higher risks of being monitored, prosecuted or sued for defamation).
No one forces anyone to say any particular thing on the Internet. Thus what people say on the Internet tends to be what they really think - that is, they're expressing their honest personal views. It's truly the masses' media.
Since the views that Singaporeans express on the Internet are their honest personal views, the PAP, acting sensibly, would probably want to give consideration to those views (the pro-PAP ones as well as the anti-PAP ones). Not to say that the PAP must agree with all of these views, but at the least, the PAP could get some quick, instant insights about what Singaporeans, or the Internet generation of Singaporeans, honestly think and feel about them.
Alas, this won't happen. Why?
Oh dear. It sounds like instead of getting mere "propaganda", we may soon be getting lots of "non-obvious propaganda". But I wonder whether the PAP will really be able to handle all these subtleties. So far their manoeuvres in cyberspace look singularly unsuccessful. For example, see here for a typical blogger's view on the Internet adventures of PAP Minister George Yeo. The general consensus in the blogosphere seems to be that they aren't doing well at all.
But this can only work if activists are not 'too obvious' about it, Mr Baey said yesterday. Otherwise it comes across as 'propaganda'.
'The identity is not important. It is the message that is important,' he added.
So far, the PAP's problem is that they simply has no instinct for making a statement, any statement, on the Internet. In the online world, they are clueless on how to engage; how to build an audience; how to persuade and convince; how to be interesting; how to demonstrate a personality. Xiaxue beats them hands down - and she doesn't even need brains to do it. Rockson beats them hands down - and he doesn't even need grammar. If only the PAP could hire the super-savvy Mr Brown as their Internet PR consultant, they would be instantly saved - but after the Bhavani incident, I don't think they can manage to pay him enough.
One activist who is involved said that when posting comments on online forums and the feedback boxes of blogs, he does not identify himself as a PAP member.
He tracks popular blogs and forums to 'see if there is anything we can clarify' on hot-button topics such as the impending hike in the Goods and Services Tax.
But he added: 'We don't rebut everything. Sometimes, what is said is fair enough, and we send the feedback on to the committee.'
In my opinion, bloggers (I mean real bloggers, not the anonymous PAP posters) should not be afraid, angry or alarmed by the PAP's new strategy. In fact, you can see this as your valuable opportunity to give feedback to the government via the Internet. You know - for sure, now - that they're lurking around, secretly reading your posts. So blog on, don't hold back.