Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng is among the PAP politicians who is very active on social media, and has a large fan following online. He tells Singapolitics in this Supper Club interview that it’s not just his selfies, but an open and persistently engaged attitude that has helped him in cyberspace. Unfortunately, with its slew of new online media regulations, he senses that the Government disagrees.
Q: Some believe that the Government is trying to clamp down on free speech online, with the licensing regime for news websites and now the requirement to register before posting on the Reach feedback forum. You've actually advocated for a light touch in regulating the online space. What's your take on what's been happening?
I think in terms of cyber-bullying and hacking, the penalties will increase and I think most people are supportive of that. What I think is more tricky is the signals that the Government is giving. The news website licensing, that is essentially about taking down things that violate certain rules within a certain time frame. As a principle, that makes sense. And the registration on the Reach website, that's just about using your Facebook account to comment. It's not about asking for IC numbers and all that. It's no big deal.
Q: But if it's no big deal then why do it at all?
Yes, the problem is that there is a signal that you are regulating, making it more difficult for people to express their views. And this is where the Government needs to look at what is the real substance - in terms of control and better order - that you are achieving, versus the negative repercussions among the netizens of such moves. This is where we have to weigh it more sensitively. From the Government's perspective, I think it's not about clamping down on dissenting views. It hopes that the impact is in getting people to be more accountable for their views and so be more responsible.
If everything you say online reflects your real views, that's fine. It can be extreme and critical but it's fine. But trolling is (different in) creating an illusion that the whole world thinks in a certain way, and blowing up sentiments that is not actually widely-held views. I think that is unhealthy.
What the Government is probably trying to achieve is just to rein it in a little so it becomes a friendlier space for people to feel comfortable. So those who want to say good things about the Government will feel comfortable enough to say so.
We want the online space to reflect more accurately what the public is thinking. Now there is no balance, it is too tilted towards one side.
Q: Some would argue that the mainstream media is too tilted towards the pro-government side, so the online space is just balancing that out.
I agree. The nature of social media allows people to be more daring and upfront. No matter the rules in place, it will always be so, and will always be more liberal and open compared to print and broadcast media. I welcome that.
I don't think the online space will ever be calm. That is the nature of the medium and really it would be a pity if we only hear one side. If it reaches that stage it's quite sad, because it's such a good opportunity for us to capture what's happening in coffeeshops, among taxi drivers. It's all online and I can have a sense.
Of course, how I analyse it is one thing, but at least I have access to it. It helps us in that way and I welcome that.
Q: Will the requirement to register to use the Reach website just cause traffic to plummet? That is, is it futile to try to regulate cyberspace?
My own view is to ignore the trolls. I have my own objectives. Through my social media efforts, I want people to know what I think, what I do. If you don't buy it, that's fine. I believe most people are rational. I must have that confidence that people can discern, and have their eyes and ears to see, to assess, to make their own judgement. That is what I believe in.
The Government probably doesn't take that view now. They think we can still protect people, what they read, what they access. It's just different starting points.