The following is a letter from “Concerned Singaporean”
In recent years, Singapore has seen a rise of online vitriol – some objective and constructive, some simply reckless and personal. Between these extremes lie a whole gamut of comments, memes and what not.
Many of these posts seem to belong to the opposition, ie they are strongly against the ruling PAP. So one might simply take that to mean that the opposition political parties, in particular the increasingly popular WP, is enjoying widespread support. But is that the case?
As social media anthropology here is still in its infancy, we can take inference from the US, where many of these vehicles started. If we look at President Barack Obama’s campaigns for the Presidency, we can find something rather instructive. The first time he ran, he was the opposition. As the underdog, one could practically hear the internet crowd whoosh-whooshing everytime they heard his CHANGE slogan. He’s the man, they said. And so he won.
But then the interesting thing happened the second time around. This time, President Obama WAS already the President. And guess what? Suddenly, the social media vehicles were all baying for his proverbial blood. He betrayed us, they rallied. Let us unite online and throw out the oppressor, they cried. So what actually happened? How did someone who could boast support from different races, strata and educational backgrounds suddenly become so unpopular? Surely he didn’t do that bad a job, given the intricacies of the US political scene? (which is fodder for another story another time)
Social media vehicles are neutral. When we use it to connect between friends, it is a convenient way to keep in touch as compared to exchanging namecards and beaming across your palmpilots (gosh, anyone remembers those days?).
But when people who do not know each other connect, it suddenly becomes a place for everyone to take on a different identity and to “play cool”. Just like the early days of ICQ chats. Always cooler to imagine yourself as James Dean and project that persona in the chatroom so everyone will look you up.
So its always cooler to be the rebel, to unite against the bourgeoisie, the eternal enemy of the proletariat. But just who are these bourgeoisie?
Anyone who is now the authority or is perceived to be in that position. So the ruling government gets hit. The richest dude around gets hit. The guy whose Lamborghini caught fire gets hit. You get the drift.
Its an important point to remember. Whoever’s now enjoying the wave of support online must bear the above caveat in mind faithfully. For there is only a thin line that divides how one is perceived as the friend or the foe, especially amongst internet strangers.