28 November 2012

Minilee's keyboard kommandos - exposed!

In 2007, ministers in the PAP government were tasked to set up a 'counter-insurgency' against their online critics. No one paid them attention. No one bothered to read them. If anyone knew which websites they were operating, no one bothered to publicise their writings.

An Aside: What we've learnt from our 2 years on Facebook

That's all changed in the past few years thanks to a more social media and in particular, the rise of Facebook. I'll admit here that like a few other, better-known bloggers, I made the decision to move my commentary online.

Over the months, I discovered that there is a price for giving up anonymity, of having your multiple online personalities and networks all collapse into one. But more importantly, I discovered that Facebook just isn't a natural space for writing long analyses and getting a true public to read them and participate in commentary.

You could write a long, thoughtful post exposing a policy failure. But for reasons of privacy, you're not going to place your profile on public mode. Yet you wrote this precisely so the public could read it, right? You could count on your friends to share your note, so slowly it goes out into the Facebook public. Great. Now there will be some discussion. Most of which will be one-liner comments thanks to Facebook's social engineering constraints. How many of your friends shared that post? There will be that many fragmented discussions to your piece. And how many of their friends in turn bother to share it? Well.

When it comes down to the line, we're not exactly sure if we have that much of a wider reach by moving to Facebook. We're not even sure if moving to Facebook actually promotes greater discussion than posting direct to blogs. We certainly don't believe that Facebook is a medium that encourages deep and sustained discussion in one consolidated place that blogging does. So we're back.

PAP's Facebook Counter-insurgency

What we did notice straight away was how the counter-insurgency on Facebook as its battlefield of choice. As identified by Singapore Hall of Shame, groups like Fabrications Against the PAP are prominent in disseminating their propaganda against public accusations of the PAP's policy failures.

As much as I'd like to protect their rights to free speech, I am not impressed by how often they would resort to going on the offensive against opposition politicians using the odious tools of misinformation, misdirection, and non sequitur. And since this was a feature of Facebook that when you 'subscribe' to your favourite politicians' pages, you can see every post where they're tagged, you could see how often FAAP tagged Chee Soon Juan, Kenneth Jeyaratnam, Low Thia Kiang, Tan Jee Say, and others in posts that had nothing to do with them, just so FAPP could spam your Facebook feed. It's frankly obnoxious and borderline passive-aggressive.

They seem to be doing very well. In 2007, the Straits Times reported that this online counter-insurgency numbered around 20. Reports by Singapore Hall of Shame and Littlespeck put the current count in October 2012 at over 260.

I suppose we should expect that kind of low-down behaviour from a PAP counter-insurgency. But did any of us predict that these Keyboard Kommandos would be so brazen as to offer to buy Internet user IDs from account holders?

Questions for PAP's counter-insurgency ministers and MPs

TO: Messrs. Dr Ng Eng Hen (Minister for Defence, MP-Bishan Toa Payoh), Lui Tuck Yew (Minister for Transport, MP-Jalan Besar), Zaqy Mohamad (PAP-Choa Chu Kang), Baey Yam Kam (MP-Tampines), and Ms Josephine Teo (MP-Bishan Toa Payoh).

1. Please clarify if you are still chairing the PAP New Media committee, and its media strategies and new media capabilities subgroups.

2. Please clarify if your New Media committee has had any hand in organising, funding, briefing, training, advising, or otherwise providing material support to the groups on Facebook identified as New Compass and Fabrications Against the PAP or persons who are its members.

3. In light of their clearly partisan, well-organised activities and a burgeoning membership that suggests strong funding and professional organisation, would you recommend to Minilee to gazette these groups as political associations?

4. In light of their scheme to solicit Facebook accounts for the purpose of identity impersonation, we appreciate if you offer to condemn this scheme as criminal and unethical in light of your own party's sincere efforts to engage in a real Singapore Conversation with all citizens.

5. In light of an actually existing Singapore Conversation as started by your own government, we appreciate if you additionally disband your "quiet online counterinsurgency". Its raison d'etre and modus operandi are incompatible with the goals of your Singapore Conversation.

I love quoting myself from 2007

"But there's only one meaning of insurgent that is implied when you use "counter-insurgent", really. The member of an irregular armed force one... And how one takes action against insurgents (i.e. guerrillas) is simple: you dispense with all rules of war and adopt a black ops manual. Adopting unconventional warfare is a must. Against the Vietcong, napalm their forests. Execute them. Against local bloggers, take on anonymous identities and destroy the blogosphere through disinformation and ghostwritten propaganda."

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