For too long, a small but vocal group dominated public debate! For too long, its made its judgments, shaping public opinion! For too long, it has forced decisions too fast! For too long, it has formed lynch mobs and spread untruths! Arise, silent majority, and speak up! …and so on and so forth.
No, this is not King Theoden giving his battle speech before the Rohirrim charged onto Pelennor Fields in aid of the Gondorians (but if you want to watch that speech, you can find it here, it’s very epic and makes me cry). Instead, this is The Straits Times getting its panties in a twist about online media. Luckily, they didn’t publish the article on Singapolitics, or it would be waaay too ironic.
In the article “Online voices = vox populi?”, Leslie Koh questions Singapore’s online community. He talks about the strident voices, the intolerance of criticism and the vindictiveness, but most of all he questions the relevance of Singapore’s “netizens” (a very over-used and unhelpful word, as I’ve pointed out before).
His argument goes thusly: if the online community does not actually represent the views of majority of Singaporeans, it is dangerous for the government and others in power to take their views too seriously, and pay “more attention to it than is justified.” Social media is, after all, “just another voice in society“!
All I have to say is… no shit, Sherlock.
Does anyone – apart from a very disappointed and anxious Mr Koh, that is – expect social media to be anything other than a voice in society? What did he think social media was going to do, suddenly produce some sort of amazing definitive consensus among Singaporeans that journalists and politicians can point at, saying “This is the decision of the Singaporean people”? Did he think that social media would suddenly remove the need for us to navigate and negotiate between diverse and often even polarised voices and do all our critical thinking for us?
Oh, I forget. Mr Koh works for The Straits Times.
Mr Koh exhorts the silent majority to step up to the plate and voice their opinions so as to counter a minority voice. It’s all too funny, because where, Mr Koh, did you think the bloggers and citizen journalists of the online community have come from
I used to be part of the silent majority. I trudged to school and home everyday, buried under books and homework and exams. I used to not follow the news very much, because there was nothing I could really do about the situation, anyway. I wasn’t actually powerless, but I was disempowered. Things happened and I said nothing.
A combination of growing up and adopting new media has now allowed me to do exactly what Mr Koh wants: I stepped up and got more vocal, online and in real life. And I wasn’t alone; many other Singaporeans did the same. We, the previously silent majority, rose up and spoke out to balance an all-too-powerful voice, one very much represented by the mainstream media, The Straits Times especially.
So, in a way, Mr Koh has already got his wish. But it’s exactly what makes him unhappy! Some people are just impossible to please.
I don’t completely disagree with him. I would encourage more Singaporeans to become more active and more vocal on issues that matter to them. I, too, want more voices and more representation for different groups and segments of society, online and off. But there will always be a silent majority. There will always be those who are left out of the conversation. Our job is not to point fingers and accuse one another of not being “representative”. Our job – especially as journalists and citizen journalists – is to remember those who have been excluded, and find ways to let their stories and struggles come to light.
It is not social media’s responsibility to reflect the majority voice in Singapore, and neither is it our fault if the powers that be make such an assumption. After all, if they are really so well connected with grassroots organisations and walking the ground and caring for constituents – as they profess to do every time an election comes ’round – surely they would know what’s going on outside of social media as well as in?