'Seeking clarifications' online a disturbing trend

SINGAPORE - I believe blogger Ravi Philemon's explanation to be bona fide, and that rather than having malicious intent, he was putting the allegation - that none of the Government's nine million N95 masks was for the public - into the public domain for the Government to clarify the issue ("Blogger says he was seeking clarification over N95 masks"; last Friday).

That said, his actions were part of a rather bewildering and disturbing trend: that of questioning the veracity of government statements during a national crisis, and the belief that it is better to clarify uncertainties over the Internet rather than with government agencies.

It is wholly acceptable in a democracy to question the Government's version of events in politics. The furore over the cleaning of Bedok hawker centres is an example.

However, in times of national crisis, doing so is not only disturbing but also very dangerous.

During the haze, people were going online and giving their own theories about air pollution, instead of believing the statements issued by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Worse, there were conspiracy theories that the Government was purposely lying to the people about pollution levels, and that it was unwilling to give up-to-date Pollutant Standards Index readings, either through ineptness or as a cover-up.

Instead of trusting the NEA experts, people thought it better to rely on information on the Internet put out by bloggers, who have neither the expertise nor the data to be giving advice. This is absurd.

As the Government had already given the assurance that N95 masks would be made available, the right thing to do would be to believe it was trying its best to get the masks out to us, even if we were facing shortages on the ground.

Instead of putting out allegations on the Internet to be clarified, one should have directed the claims to the NEA, because the viral nature of the Internet means that such untruths could spark further panic and mask-hoarding, making the Government's job even harder.

In a national crisis, our Government has never been known to lie. It is ridiculous to think it would start now.

This time, it is merely the haze, which has since abated. If there is a terrorist attack or a viral outbreak, and people turn to the Internet for conspiracy theories and advice instead of listening to and trusting the Government, the consequences could be unimaginable.

- Calvin Cheng