SEA Bloggers Explore the Boundaries of What’s Acceptable Online

In our Selected Exhortations category, we republish interesting stuff such as must-read articles and essays not originally written exclusively for the blawg, and which have come to our attention. Please feel free to email [email protected] if you would like to reproduce your writing, but first follow our Writer’s Guide here. This article was previously published in the Jakarta Globe.

With bloggers and social media activists increasingly coming under the same kind of state scrutiny given to traditional journalists, calls are increasing for a new approach to citizen journalism that does not court censorship.

Zheng “William” Wei, a prominent blogger from Singapore, said that with Web censorship not an option, it was up to bloggers to be more judicious about what they posted. “What’s important now is how to get people to behave more responsibly on the Internet,” he said at a recent gathering in Jakarta of bloggers and social media activists from across Southeast Asia.

Zheng added that governments also had a role to play, arguing that by engaging more with citizens through their online presence, no government should have to resort to censorship. “If a government is confident about addressing domestic issues through the Internet, it will have better communication with its citizens in cyberspace and no longer have to censor,” he said.

He also said that in order to reduce the incidence of bloggers posting libelous content, there was a growing movement within Web communities for people to use their real identities in their blogs and other social media accounts. “By having to use one’s real name, Internet users will become more responsible and careful about what they say on the Internet,” Zheng said.

Flow Galindez, a blogger from the Philippines who also spoke at the discussion hosted at @america, the American cultural center, said that responsible blogging habits were key to keeping government censors at bay. “The concept that needs to be publicized now is for bloggers to ‘think before you click,’ ” he said, This, he added, applies to blog content critical of the government as well as post attacking individuals, groups or companies.

William, Marcus, and Art. | Photo by Nayana Dharsono for LoyarBurok

Marcus van Geyzel, a Malaysian-based blogger and lawyer, said that bloggers in the country were not subject to censorship, but were liable to lawsuits. “The main issue that bloggers have to face in Malaysia is the risk of being sued for slander,” he said.

Van Geyzel attributed the booming blogging community in Malaysia to the relative lack of press freedom for the mainstream media in the country, and across much of Southeast Asia, as indicated in the 2010 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.

“What’s being reported in the mainstream media isn’t a lie, but it’s only half the truth,” van Geyzel said. “That’s why people are starting to lose trust in the mainstream media.”

With blogging only starting to take off in the country, he said, the Malaysian government is not censoring blogs, but rather engaging with bloggers. “They’re choosing to use the Internet instead of blocking it,” he said. He attributed this to a concession by the administration of Prime Minister Najib Razak to “appear friendly to bloggers.”

However, he cautioned that over the long term, the Malaysian authorities were unlikely to encourage an unfettered increase in the number of bloggers. “The government won’t support that idea and will be very careful about accommodating more bloggers, because what the latter might write could hurt the [government’s] credibility,” van Geyzel said.

While other governments in the region have maintained a hands-off approach to free speech on the Internet, the Thai government has come under widespread criticism for its lese- majeste law that allows the prosecution of those posting any content deemed insulting to the country’s revered monarchy. Arthit Suriyawongkul, coordinator of the Thai Netizen Network, told the discussion that the overriding concern among the online community there was that “for expressing oneself on the Internet, one can be jailed.”

He also disagreed with Zheng, the blogger from Singapore, about the need to require bloggers to use their real identities. He said anonymity was still the best protection state persecution. “Anonymity is still necessary to protect people who have expressed opinions that go against what those in power believe,” he said.


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Posted on 9 December 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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