Saturday, January 15, 2011

Prime Minister wants The Online Citizen Gazetted as Political Association

On 10 January, the Prime Minister's Office of Singapore revealed its intention to gazette the website, The Online Citizen, as a political association.  As a political association, The Online Citizen will be barred from receiving funds from foreign donors or allow foreigners to take part in its events.  The gazette, the Prime Minister's Office explained, is necessary to prevent foreigners from interfering in Singapore's domestic politics as the website has the potential to influence and shape political outcomes.

From the perspective of crisis communications in the era of social media, I find the move by the Prime Minister's Office counter-productive.

Firstly, blogs or websites without the complementing "brick and mortar" element or a defined organisation structure are just websites.  Even with a large following, netizens accept the views expressed on the website with some scepticism.  The Prime Minister's Office move to gazette the website has effectively legitimised the contents over-night.  And, based on the curiosity effect, I am certain that viewership of The Online Citizen has significantly increased since the announcement.

Secondly, in the era of social media, no country or entity can completely eliminate dissenting voices.  Take the recent cablegate by wikileaks as a case in point.  The Online Citizen is only one of many websites out in cyberspace than can easily and effectively morph itself to keep ahead of the government's efforts to "control" it.  Hence, as I have advocated in some of my earlier blog postings, stakeholder engagement and not stakeholder censorship is the more effective approach to managing social media.

In short, while I can understand the Singapore government's need to prevent foreign influence in domestic politics (i.e. foreigners' agendas may not be in Singaporeans best interest), I feel that the Singapore government's approach is off the mark.  In the era of social media, stakeholder engagement and not stakeholder censorship is the key to winning the battle for cyberspace.

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