Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

Some Thoughts on Singapore Vigilantism

I, too, had wondered if our Singapore-style online vigilantism has gone a little too far. It seems our Singapore netizens are easily irked, and they are quite capable of taking matters into their own hands, appointing themselves judge, jury, and executioner, to rain justice down the purported offender. The two recent victims of local vigilantism do indeed deserve to be punished for their wrongs, but could we let the right parties deal with it?

Maybe, or maybe not. I think Singapore netizens likely don’t expect the authorities to take all the necessary steps to deal with the matter in the deserving manner. Probably our authorities have a lot of work cut out for them to satisfy the general public that they are an effective force, capable of dealing with matters in a just and appropriate manner.

Of course, there’s also the flip side that our Singapore netizens are expecting an unreasonable outcome from these incidents. I suppose that’s how fights start. You do me wrong, so I do you more wrong, continuing into a vicious cycle until someone breaks us up. We get into fights without standing back and seeing the big picture, or understanding the underlying factors.

As third-party online spectators, we could have that balanced view of the incident. Or often, likely not, because all the facts may not be available. We take sides, and we form our own conclusions.

I consider myself to usually be quite neutral and balanced. In the road bullying incident involving Quek Zhen Hao, for example, I wasn’t particularly interested in viewing the in-car camera recording. It’s a one-sided story. The camera wouldn’t show the whole story. Things got more interesting when a second in-car camera recording showed up involving the same bully in a separate incident. I did not watch it either. Then, Quek Zhen Hao produced his own apology video, and since a transcript was conveniently available, I read it.

I’m sorry, Quek Zhen Hao, but your apology was not an apology at all. Your video was in fact a retort, making excuses for yourself, and then taking shots at other people. The predicament you find yourself in right now, you deserve it. You might have been better off just keeping quiet.

However, having said that, there’s still the matter of whether netizens have taken things too far. Both Quek and Anton Casey, the victim from another earlier vigilante onslaught, claimed they received death threats and feared for their lives and the lives of their families.

I don’t want to speculate if the death threats were legitimate or not. I thought we were in a very safe Singapore where such gangsterism is rare or non-existent. Of course, I can easily be proven wrong by the on-and-off incidences of gangster-related deaths. We now even have riots. I suppose I could not just completely rule out that such threats posed legitimate concerns.

Had Quek Zhen Hao and Anton Casey truly received death threats, I think this is another angle that we should be thoroughly concerned about. They should report to the police, and the police should have the threats investigated and the full weight of the law be brought to bear on the culprits. I grew up in a Singapore which I believed was safe. Many things about Singapore can change, but I think we don’t want to lose our sense of security.

I think, though I could be wrong, that our Singapore netizens just seek to shame the culprits. The posting of addresses, photos, and other personal particulars (including those of loved ones), mostly seem to serve the purpose of identifying and shaming the culprits. I don’t think, for the most part, that anyone meant to target other parties related to the culprit.

But it is easy to get carried away. If you don’t get the results you want, you push harder. That’s where things can easily get out of hand if you are all of judge, jury and executioner. Worse still is that people tend to find the courage to do things online that they wouldn’t otherwise have done in the real world. That’s were we have to be careful, step back, and think if our actions are appropriate.

A few weeks back when our Prime Minister warned about online lynch mob mentality, I thought about stronger regulation that could come our way to control Internet activities. We wouldn’t like it, and we know it wouldn’t work effectively. The government wouldn’t need excuses anyway to make a new law, but we certainly still don’t want to hand them a convenient excuse.

Still, those regulatory concerns aside, we should all behave civilly. In the real world, and online. If our vigilante behaviour get out of hand, then how are we different than those offenders we were targeting?

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