You can't stop internet trolls

You can't stop internet trolls

SINGAPORE - He gingerly placed a hearing aid into his ear. Then, he smiled, signalling for the interview to start.

Age may have slowed down former President S R Nathan's movements - he will be 91 this year - but his mind remains very sharp.

"I used to go for walks, but in the last six to seven months, I haven't been able to walk.

"My health isn't good, so I don't walk at all. I'm in and out of hospital," he said, adding that he goes to the hospital twice a week.

But he still keeps his days occupied, spending three days a week at the Singapore Management University (SMU), chatting with students, lecturers and people who want to meet him.

If he finds time, he also goes to the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

His recently launched book, S R Nathan In Conversation, in which he talks about topics ranging from politics to new media, is also a testament to his lucidity.

In an interview with The New Paper in his office at SMU, Mr Nathan shared his views on social media, something he has never and will not use but that he acknowledged the power of.

One thing that struck him was how fast news, whether fact or myth, gets out there, thanks to social media.

In the past, rumours circulated in coffee shops, he said. Today's equivalent of that is social media, except that word spreads further and faster.

"You see, in a coffee shop, I talk to you, you go home. In social media, you write what you and I have spoken, you press the button, it goes to 1,000 people! It's irresponsible.

"For instance, in a character assassination, if one does that and is anonymous, do you know how much damage he would have done?

"Once you press the button, you can't take it back," he said.

The former President conceded that the powers of social media can be overwhelming, but he is not bothered by it.

"It doesn't worry me, the sun will rise tomorrow morning, the sun will set today," he said, with a shrug of the shoulders.

He has never felt compelled to jump on the bandwagon despite social media already gaining traction during his term as president.

"Now, I don't need the youth's attention. I don't have much time left, I'm 90 years old," Mr Nathan said.


As for public figures active on social media, like Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, trolls are unavoidable, said Mr Nathan in reference to the PM's live Facebook chat two weeks ago.

One asked: "Are you AM Lee in the morning?" Another asked for the 4D number of the day.

Mr Nathan calls such people "pasang kaki" (Malay for to trip someone).

"They think they are the only ones who know everything. The world always has those. They will be always there. You can't change it," he said.

When asked if he thinks there is any way to control the perpetuation of myths on social media, Mr Nathan pointed to his heart and said: "Your conscience.

"Those who do it must be honest with themselves, that they don't use the social media to that purpose."

This article was first published on January 2, 2015.
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