Politics and communication technology make a wonderful fit. After all,
one is about trying to put across an accurate message to as many people
as possible at once, and the other is politics. No surprise then, that
U.S. and British elections are fought out largely via TV, nor that
Australia promises that the Internet will be a key medium in the
federal election there at the end of this year; in Singapore, too, the
Web is beginning to affect the political scene.
The strength -- and weakness, some believe -- of the Internet is its
anonymity and ubiquity. It allows anyone, from anywhere, to put forward
their agenda, no matter how unconventional, on an equal footing. For
example, consider the agenda of the Flat Earth Society, a long-lived
but hitherto limited organization that is now able to expand its
territory, if that's the word, simply by means of a Web site
"While the Society is not a 'crackpot' group, it is opposed to the
fashionable, politically-correct Spherical Earth theory," the society
says on its site. "The Society asserts that the Earth is flat and has
five sides, that all places in the Universe named Springfield are
merely links in higher-dimensional space to one place."
Well, quite. In most Western countries, it is up to individuals --
voters, if we're talking politics -- to decide for themselves what is
sense and what is nonsense among the content they find on the Web.
Elsewhere, and in Asia in particular, governments fear that their
electorates are not mature enough to distinguish harmful content from
harmless content, and feel it is the government's duty to intervene.
"We believe that it is necessary to have regulations that will help
maintain sensible and responsible political discourse during
elections," said David Lim, Singapore's Minister of State for Defense,
Information and the Arts, earlier this month. "Internet campaigning
does harm if emotions are whipped up by mischievous rumors and false
allegations under the cover of anonymity. Falsehoods, spread
anonymously with impunity and without accountability, damage not only
the credibility of affected candidates, but also diminish the gravity
In other words, if you want to be ubiquitous, you cannot be anonymous.
All Web sites in Singapore must be registered, and Web sites located
outside Singapore which talk about the island-state's politics may be
blocked if the site's owners do not identify themselves to the
"The regulations will not hinder candidates from putting forward their
arguments, nor prevent voters from freely expressing their political
viewpoints," Lim said. "But it would make political parties accountable
for the points of view that they put forward to the voting public on
their Web sites."
Other countries would disagree with this stance. Veterans of U.K.
politics would point to parties like the Official Monster Raving Loony
Party (http://www.omrlp.com) as an acceptable alternative political
voice. Unashamedly a crackpot group, the OMRLP is led by a cat called
Mandu, and holds its annual conference in a pub called the Dog &
Partridge. And does no harm.
In fact, there are several registered political Web sites hosted in
Singapore, not all friendly to the government, as well as a U.S.-hosted
site (http://www.talkingcock.com) that engages in general satire about
Singapore society, with headlines like "Economy Bad, So Ministers To
Get Pay Rise."
The closer regulation of political activity on the Web in Singapore
merely reflects a difference in culture, according to Lim.
"Accountability measures that work for Singapore may not work for China
or Japan or the United States, and vice versa," he said. "We will have
different rules, because our societies hold different values, and are
at different stages of development."
No place, then, for the anonymous members of the Flat Earth Society. A
pity. Its blend of "pataphysical engineering, ... memetics, cognitive
dissonance and signal saturation," part of what it calls the Mr. Teapot
Campaign, could hardly fail to enliven Singapore's Web-based political