The recent online dissemination of the gory images of the corpses of the two young boys who were killed in the road accident at Tampines have sparked a strong response from many Singaporeans who condemned the distribution of the images as insensitive and disrespectful towards both the boys and their families. Some have even called for legislation to be enacted in order to make the dissemination of such images illegal. (you may hyperlink: http://www.todayonline.com/voices/legislate-against-taking-photos-traffic-accidents)
Such calls indicate that there are Singaporeans who have an idea of online boundaries and where they should lie. This is a positive sign and deserves to be applauded. These individuals are certainly more sensitive, empathetic and respectful than those who believe that they have the right, and sometimes even the duty, to do whatever they like on the internet and are either oblivious of, or show no regard for the harm their actions cause to others. However, their calls did make me concerned. Is there a double standard amongst Singaporeans when it comes to online censorship?
I wonder how many of the Singaporeans who condemned the publications of the photos offered the same condemnation when the “Tammy NYP sex scandal” video or the pictures from the “Underage prostitution ring” (including pictures of the underage girl herself, supposedly protected by gag order) began to circulate online, or when they read the offensive, threatening language used against Xia Xue during the 2011 General Elections? Not many, I believe. In fact, I believe that at least some of them were themselves distributors of the sex video and made efforts to uncover the underage prostitute’s identity. Is there a double standard in place? Clearly when online behaviour involves something juicy or when it involves personal attacks against a living person, it suddenly becomes socially acceptable to misbehave despite the disrespect and the invasion of privacy that takes place. When the authorities try to intervene in these situations, netizens cry foul and begin citing the internet as a bastion of freedom and free speech. Well, they wanted internet freedom; this is it.
There is nothing the law can do about the photos. It is impossible to draft any legislation with a satisfactory explanation of what is “disrespectful” or “insensitive”. Furthermore, enforcement is unfeasible due to the size of the internet and the protection bestowed to perpetrators via the veil of online anonymity. The only thing we can do is self-regulate. However, with the double standards displayed by Singaporeans online, how can we possibly have fair and positive self-regulation?
This is a tragic problem and will continue to remain so.