A question of numbers in anti-Stomp petition

A petition to close down citizen journalism website Stomp, which is owned by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), claims to have collected more than 22,800 signatures since being set up 12 days ago.

One issue that has now arisen is whether these figures are accurate.

The campaign was initiated on international campaigning site change.org by 26-year-old retail executive Robin Li.

Mr Li was incensed by a March 24 post on Stomp in which a national serviceman was accused by a Stomp contributor of failing to offer his seat to an elderly woman in front of him.

"Many netizens contribute posts that are at the expense of others, especially NSmen," Mr Li told The Straits Times. "Their faces are not blurred either... this promotes voyeurism and comes at the expense of their privacy."

Mr Li has yet to decide what to do once the petition hits the 25,000 mark, but some say these numbers demand a closer look.

Said SPH spokesman Ginney Lim, who is executive vice-president of corporate communications and corporate social responsibility: "Two of our staff received e-mails from the petition organiser thanking them for signing up to the petition, when in fact they had not done so.

"Upon investigation, we have found that the website, change.org, which is being used to initiate the petitions, works in a loose way - anyone can go to the website and sign up any number of people.

"So a person can sign up his entire address book and insert comments, and all of them will be counted as having signed the petition."

The America-based site, which also hosts paid petitions from organisations such as Amnesty International, does not require users to input legitimate e-mail addresses. Even fictitious ones can be used, and the site will count them all as petitioners.

"Under the circumstances, the number of petitioners being cited is likely to be grossly inflated," said Ms Lim, who is also SPH's general counsel.

Dr Michael Netzley, a media researcher and academic director of executive development at Singapore Management University, said that without a clear verification system, there was no way to know the true number of signatures on the site.

Rather than being a "serious" attempt to shut down Stomp, the petition perhaps serves more as "public feedback about the quality of engagement on Stomp", he added.

Media regulator Media Development Authority (MDA) will not influence the editorial slant of websites, but will take firm action if there is a breach of public interest or the promotion of racial and religious hatred or intolerance.

Meanwhile, Mr Felix Soh, editor of the digital media group at SPH's Digital Division, which oversees Stomp, denied Mr Li's accusations, adding: "It is sad that those who clamour for the freedom of the Internet are now asking for the closure of a website - just because they don't like it."


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