12 December 2005

NTU Blogging survey: questions and answers


While blogs in Singapore are largely accounts of personal lives with the odd post on social and political issues, several prominent blogs have appeared that choose to focus on such issues, including at least three by opposition politicians. This paper will thus examine the effects the sedition incident and other recent incidents involving online speech have had on the local blogging community. Through interviews with 20 bloggers, the paper explores if a "chilling effect" is being produced among those who blog on political subjects, given the vagueness of the laws and code of practice that govern online discussion of political issues. Also, the paper looks at how bloggers who discuss such subjects negotiate the various legal pitfalls that surround online communication. By doing so, it is hoped that the paper provides an insight into the future of blogs as applied to social and civic discourse in Singapore and the potential effects that these non-traditional sources of information are capable of invoking.


What is your blog about?

This blog is a practical application of cultural studies, rather than a springboard for cultural theory. Inasmuch as current issues (say, the economy or politics) are raised on Illusio, I am more interested in the cultural significance of these issues. Other topics claimed by Illusio: comparative literature and cross-cultural studies.

You may say Illusio is an academic cultural (practical) blog, in the sense that its posts ensure (in the words of Bourdieu) the social world loses its character as a natural phenomenon, that the question of the natural or conventional character of social facts can be raised. This blog combats orthodoxy, straight, or rather straightened opinion that aims at restoring the primal state of innocence of doxa (the natural, undiscussed, and undisputed), and instead become heretical, heterodox, to alert consciously to readers of the existence of competing possibles and the sum total of the alternatives not chosen that the established order implies.

Who do you want to read your blog?

There are 2 important questions: Who are my ideal audience, and who actually ends up reading my blog?

Let us examine Illusio. It does not operate in a vacuum, but exists in the wider field of blogs. Like any social field, there are positions to be taken, an investment of interest and reputation, by both participants and spectators who are invested, taken in and by the game. To be interested is to accord a given social game that what happens in it does matter, that its stakes are important and worth pursuing.

Identify the position my blog occupies in the field of blogging and you will have the profile of my 'ideal reader'.

Now, do a technorati search to see who links to Illusio. Those are players who have invested and positioned themselves through linking to me. Then do a survey on who I have linked on my blog. Do they match the profile of A) your analysis of the positioning of Illusio, and B) the associated profile of who you'd expect to read this blog?


Regarding the AcidFlask and racist bloggers incidents, were the actions taken against the bloggers in each incident appropriate? Why or why not?

My opinion on the racist bloggers have been expressed in an earlier post (see 3 down, 1 to go and no, it's really about the internets).

Illusio has not commented on AcidFlask previously. All I'd say is we'd better look at the historical records on the eccentricities of Chairman Yeo and how he wishes to control public discourse on his A★★ agency. You'll find in more than a few parliamentary debates in the Hansard record, of his demands that MPs and ministers send him drafts of any speeches mentioning his A★★ agency. Then imagine what would happen when an ex-scholar attempts to break the iron curtain of non-transparency of his agency...

Were the actions taken against AcidfFlask appropriate? It was an extrajudicial silencing. Chairman Yeo and AcidFlask need to answer this question, not I. Was the action expected? Definitely, with that consistent pattern of behaviour from The Chairman.

How have these two incidents affected your blogging activities?

Were the bloggers punished because of what they did, or were they punished because they were bloggers? Or were they punished because the internet must receive the extension of the legal authority/policing of the state and the extrajudicial authority of Chairman Yeo's A★★ agency? Or were they punished for things that they would've been punished for if they had committed their acts offline? Note that not all of these possible intepretations require Akikonomu's blogging activities to be affected.

However, it may be noted that Illusio has never shied away from commenting on Singapore's leaders, and instead you may find it has increased in such commentary, and even provides links and citations to the more outrageous or courageous assertions made in blog posts.


In your understanding, what makes an issue political?

A. The political is the realm of the disputed. Disputed positions, facts, membership, positioning make things political.
B. The political is whatever touches on issues, events, anything related to the polity.

How do you blog about political issues? If you don't, why not?

Let's assume you mean to imply that Singaporean bloggers who are political are conflicted because of a popular interpretation on a law banning political publications and broadcasts. Then you should be asking the original crafters of the law, or lawyers, or politicians, on whether the issues raised on selected blogs in your study are political.

Let me reiterate: I blog about cultural issues as a practical application of cultural studies (as opposed to blogging on cultural theory). Given the blog's purpose to denaturalise the social world and its undisputed, commonsensical facts, you can call it political (in the sense of politics as the realm of the disputed). Any more and I would be repeating what my blog is about.

What do you think of current levels of control on blogging?

There's the comments feature. There's the linking. There's the whole goldfish in a fish tank, voices in an echo chamber feature and the public lynching thing that's so charming about the blogosphere. Bloggers and their readers police their own pretty well. Do a study on BBSes, internet newsgroups, and see what sorts of control evolve on their own.

But that's not what you're asking, is it? Can the entire internets be controlled? What is the current extend of control Singapore government holds over the internets? Compare that to the current levels of control on blogging, and compare that to whether blogs can be controlled. There's that neat cross-national study on state control of blogging and internet access by the Electronic Freedom Frontier that you may wish to consult instead (it's linked by Singabloodypore somewhere).

Ideally, how much control should there be?

There's the comments feature. There's the linking. There's the whole goldfish in a fish tank, voices in an echo chamber feature and the public lynching thing that's so charming about the blogosphere. Bloggers and their readers police their own pretty well. But... that's not what you really wanted to ask, was it? Can the entire internets be controlled?

Do the current laws/regulations help you understand what can or cannot be said in blogs?

Certainly there shouldn't be defamation or incitement to crimes. I write on cultural issues, in a semi-academic style. The rules of my positioning as a certain type of blogger constrains and enables me to write on certain subjects in a certain manner, with a certain agenda. Cultural studies, with analyses that open up the field of interpretations on taken-for-granted "social facts". Those are the rules of the game that I am governed and am empowered by. I occupy the position of a cultural studies blogger, not a political blogger.

You wanted to ask "Do the current laws/regulations help you understand if something blogs are allowed to be political" or something along the lines. That didn't prevent Chairman Yeo from taking an extrajudicial, extralegal action against AcidFlask. That certainly didn't prevent the 4 bloggers to be found ex post facto guilty and punished under a law that has never been used for the purpose of punishing those crimes.

Indeed, as your abstract points out, there is this "vagueness of the laws" that pervades the whole issue. Let me tell you it is the vaguenss of the legal code in the Political Broadcasts Act, in the whole political-legal arena (re: Papalee sentencing proscription on Capt Ryan Goh for "breaking the rules of the game, the unspoken rules as to how we survive, how we have prospered".

Ex post facto criminalisation is the constant threat when a state operates with vague laws and unspoken rules. For a political blogger, that would be the gravest thing. For myself, it's merely a topic to blog about, to analyse its cultural significance and implications.

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