Free Speech and What(is)not

# This article first appeared on my Facebook page as a note.

When the minister blocked these anti-singapore bloggers, they cry no freedom of speech . And when they blocked , they say is their rights. [sic where applicable] (Quoted from Fappers)


Not unlike how the PAP pointed fingers at Town Councils managed by the WP when people questioned its transactions with AIM, the mythical PAP IB (which comprises rare specimens of mutant life forms dedicated to furthering the PAP cause, such as the fab fappers) points fingers at others such as The Real Singapore when you question its insane moderation policies.


It is true that there are anti-PAP websites and social media groups such as The Real Singapore that have deleted comments exposing their lack of integrity and banned users who do so. Nevertheless, just because The Real Singapore appears have practiced censorship unncessarily, it does not mean that everyone else not sharing the political views of the pro-PAP groups has done so too. Neither does it mean that the PAP IB has any sound justifications for doing so. And it certainly does not mean that no one is allowed to criticize groups like the fab fappers for indiscriminately deleting reasonable comments.


To be sure, there remains the question of why anyone (Molly, for instance) would harp on the censorship practices of the fab fappers instead of on the same behavior on the part of TRS. The reason can be rather straightforward—one is more likely to comment on what one is affected by, so if I do not read TRS posts and see comment deletions or if my comments have not been deleted by its administrators, then I am less likely to comment on its behavior as compared to that of another group that has deleted my comments and banned me. Of course, people like the fab fappers would stubbornly, and rather childishly, insist that this is a matter of having double standards. According to such a line of reasoning, one cannot condemn one particular act of terrorism without also mentioning every other act of terrorism in history.


One issue that tends to be neglected by the adamantly simplistic, though, is whether every act of comment deletion or user banner in social media is equal. Quite obviously not. But those who relish in self-aggrandizing reductionist discourse will not acknowledge this. If someone posts defamatory comments about others, hate speech, or information that intrudes on people’s privacy on your website, you have a good reason to delete the comments even if you are a fierce advocate of free speech. There is no ideological contradiction here—no sound advocate of free speech believes that free speech has no boundaries. Ironically, it is sometimes the same people who accuse free speech advocates of being proponents of “irresponsible” speech that pretend that true believers of free speech should never delete comments or practice any form of censorship under any imaginable condition. One can only hope that netizens are generally not taken in by such arrogantly warped attackers of sound thinking.


A distinction should also be made in terms of content. When a group that posts on public issues with a consistently pro-PAP slant keeps deleting reasonable comments that expose how it attempts to pass ideology of as unmediated truth, it has the authority to do so. Such behavior is, however, questionable and can be distinguished from the actions of a blogger who blogs about his personal life and deletes derisive comments about him. In the latter scenario, it is arguably reasonable enough for two reasons: firstly, the blog is his and he should be free to decide what to allow there; secondly, it is not an issue that concerns others.


Perhaps one might employ the same reasoning for groups that comment on politics: they are the owners/administrators of their own websites or Facebook pages, so it is also fair enough that they determine what comments to allow. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with deleting comments in itself. (If you come to my house and my cat hates dogs, you had jolly well not bring a dog along. It is not as if I’m stopping you from bringing your dog anywhere else.) Nevertheless, one may question the intentions behind the deletions when the comments are on issues of public interest. A blogger like Xiaxue can delete nasty comments about her looks for all I care, but when a site that posts on issues of public concern deletes comments that express disagreement with the original posts, it could also be effectively disallowing clarifications of misrepresented information of public concern. It has the authority to delete whatever comments it wants, but there is a good reason to criticize it for making deletions.


Lest the issue be confused, it is not even a matter of free speech here. After all, just because FAP or TRS deletes my comments, it does not mean that I am not free to express myself in general. The problem is one of how misinformation is circulated without a chance of being challenged in its immediate context. Anyone who accuses FAP or TRS of curtailing free speech is wrong for they are not powerful enough to do so. It is not as if they have the authority to put people under arrest for expressing themselves in their own Facebook pages, for instance. The problem lies in the potential for public opinion to be manipulated by disingenuous (or perhaps downright malicious groups)—and it is not limited to any particular political stance—when differing opinions and additional information at a particular page are disallowed.


From my observations, there are Internet groups with different political views that have unethical moderation policies. While there are new media groups or individuals critical of the government which do not practice indiscriminate censorship, I have yet to see one from the staunchly pro-PAP camp having similar practices. But perhaps I’m just unlucky.


*A more rudimentary version of the thoughts here have been posted in a comment under a photo deleted by Facebook. There is a possibility that the original comment had been the inspiration of the epigraph.

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