Brave new online world

I was just having a big discussion with friend on whether the online space should be regulated at all, before the internet got taken over by haze…  Ya, it was in relation to the big hoo-ha on MDA’s licensing move on the internet space.  The attention of netizens have since moved on.

We talked about many things, and one of the things we fought over was whether downloading songs and movies is ‘stealing’ and why people who won’t steal in real and physical life, do so online.

I was saying that I can agree for people to pay a price for live performances, cinema for the experience, much like how performances started off the streets. But having to pay for the DVD supplier is just giving good money to a replicating machine.

Friend countered that free online downloads is hurting the quality of content as less people are getting paid for the work they generate. And promptly educated me how being able to own what one earns has been the key impetus for innovation and progress throughout history.

We also talked about how circulation of libellous information on individuals, and circulation of tragic images of loved-ones involved in accidents, can cause tremendous hurt to people.

And I countered to say that, yes these are unfortunate, but the internet space has the potential to self-regulate irresponsible behaviours, citing example of how Mr Brown and a few bloggers came together to persuade people to take down images of the 2 tragic Tampines boys.

But I might have been too quick to say that since, post-haze craze, some of my previous determination that “internet space shall not be regulated” is appropriately tamed after how the internet reared its ugly head over the haze issue. I’m not so sure now, the online community can really shoulder self-regulation yet.

Enough has been said about how falsehoods were fabricated and distributed to undermine confidence in public institutions during the haze, and the same amount (probably more) of counter-texts have been shared about how public institutions are pulling wool over our eyes.

Who do we believe?  To me, that is hardly as important as how we get through a “crisis” as one people, and staying alive.  Objectively speaking, living through barely more than a few hours of above 400 PSI haze is hardly a crisis at all!  But look at the reactions of people so far.

If one can learn anything from the film Contagion, is that in such epidemics (I’m not even sure if haze should be called one), sometimes you get killed over things that are supposed to keep you alive from the thing that is supposed to kill you, e.g. masks.

Simply put, fear and paranoia kills people faster than what actually kills people during such national level epidemics.

And the online space has proven itself to be a super-efficient vehicle in spreading fear and paranoia, perhaps more infectious, contagious and effective than the most contagious viruses! It’s like World War Z, except we are fighting trolls, not zombies (World War T?)

The people lobbying for free internet space must demonstrate their responsibility and define their roles in society.  Are they a more constructive or destructive force.  As much as it is for the regulators to prove their agenda in regulating the internet space, the people wanting free internet must prove their agenda for pushing for freedom.

They have not proven to me, that they are capable of weighing and calibrating what is important and key, versus what they can gain out of the situation.  They have not proven that beyond throwing stones at public institutions, they also have the decency to uphold public faith and interest. They have failed to rally the people in the direction that can help people most in a potential disaster.

That said, it would be a tight rope to walk for regulators, how they are disciplined in retaining space for constructive and meaningful public discourse, yet keep bad behaviours in check. A new consensus needs to be struck with the public on how this ‘knife’ will be used, and where it will cut.  Trust is not going to come easy. It’ll be a long-road ahead.


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