Remember that episode of Seinfeld where the four friends were sent to jail for not being good Samaritans?
In the finale of the popular U.S. sitcom, the quartet stood watching while a guy was carjacked at gunpoint. They were then taken into custody for violating a Good Samaritan law, which decrees that bystanders must offer help under such circumstances.
This may seem a little too outlandish to be real, but it could very well be what some want replicated in the World Wide Web.
During a parliament sitting this week, a senior Singapore minister, Lui Tuck Yew, labeled the Internet an ineffective self-regulated environment, referring to how the online community had not done enough to quash negative comments targeted at a local politician who was set ablaze by a discontented resident.
Lui noted that a significant number of such comments by local bloggers were "unkind", while others were "downright outrageous". He bemoaned that the Internet community, instead of standing by in silence, should have done more to rebuke their fellow Netizens for dishing out malicious remarks.
Lui said: "It is a squandered opportunity for a higher degree of self-regulation. It would have been an example of the genesis of the first step toward a more responsible, a greater self-regulatory regime. But many of those responses were not rebutted nor answered. And I think it is not healthy for some of those to remain on the Net unchallenged, unquestioned, and unanswered."
He called for the government and Internet community to play a role in developing a responsible cyber society, where Netizens must do more to establish and enforce acceptable online behavior.
I couldn't help but smile wryly as I watched the news broadcast of Lui saying his piece at the parliament session. Gosh, sensitive guy, I thought...must be his first visit to the blogosphere if he was really startled by the "unkind" environment.
Needless to say, Lui's high-level complaint has invited even more "unkind" remarks from local bloggers.
Fortunately, or unfortunately for my bank account, I'm not a celebrity so my life isn't worth being put under public scrutiny. But having chosen a career as a journalist, I'm not exactly living in total obscurity either. My byline is Google-able, my work freely accessible on the public domain, and hence, open for criticism--and sometimes, harsh criticism.
I've had hate mail and "unkind" insults hurled at me, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't lose sleep each time that happens. But, gradually over the years, I learnt to lose fewer hours of sleep over it and have grown a thicker skin to cope with any potential verbal abuse.
Clogged with people from all walks of life and multiple personalities, the blogosphere isn't a place for the overly-sensitive souls.
Are some bloggers vicious with their comments? Certainly. Are they at times absolutely brutal in their insults? Most definitely. But, you take the good, along with the bad…you can't have one without the other--the world doesn't work that way. Just as it spawned disturbed minds like Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein, it also created great ones like The Beatles, Chopin and Leonardo da Vinci.
By no means do I condone bloggers or Netizens who think nothing about launching spite-filled attacks at another human being.
Relentless vicious online flaming and lynching can lead to serious consequences, especially when you read about real-life accounts of how cyber bullies have driven some teenagers to suicide. Celebrities in countries like Korea, have also ended their lives in despair after being hounded incessantly by Internet rumors.
What I'm espousing is for everyone to take criticisms with a pinch of resilience and learn to defend themselves when necessary. Not all criticisms are nasty. In fact, when stripped down to the bare facts, most are actually constructive and reflect true sentiments from the ground.
And when the comments do get too "unkind" and to a point where the targeted victims are contemplating suicide, or fantasizing excessively about initiating a revenge-killing spree, they must then realize that there are more rational alternatives like taking legal action or going to the authorities for help.
Sure, perhaps more of us should stand up for fellow Netizens and there will be occasions where such squabbles can be better resolved this way. But a more conducive approach would be for individuals to be self-reliant and resilient.
To put it bluntly, life's tough, suck it up. Grow a thicker skin, learn to shake off the unkind and focus on the good that the Internet has to offer.
Lamenting about the lack of Internet self-regulation at a parliament session only serves to demonstrate just how little some governments understand the online community.
Even if more Netizens take Lui's heed and help cultivate a greater self-regulatory regime, can they rid the blogosphere entirely of all unkind comments? You can stop one, or maybe even a hundred, but you can't block them all. And does Lui truly believe that a blogger who's peeved enough to hurl spiteful remarks at someone can be so easily snuffed out by fellow Netizens?
Bloggers are a passionate lot, which explains why some are so emotive with their remarks. It is this demonstration of raw emotions that characterizes the blogosphere.
The online world is still an evolving one, especially in younger blogospheres like Singapore's, and should be given the space to develop on its own. In time, bloggers will learn to be more responsible with what they say and cultivate acceptable online social etiquette.
A regulated Internet is an obvious oxymoron, most of us know that. Asking for a more regimented, self-regulated online platform will only erode the one thing it's most valued for--the ability to feel freely without worrying unduly about what others might say.