S'pore Facebook arrest unlikely to be last

Following news this week that local man had been arrested for posting comments on Facebook that authorities alleged incited violence, analyst says similar cases are likely to happen in future.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Arrests related to questionable comments made on social media platforms are likely to continue in future, says an industry analyst, who adds that both users and the government have a role to play in minimizing such incidents.

According to local reports, Abdul Malik Mohammed Ghazali was arrested earlier this week on charges related to incitement of violence due to comments he made on Facebook, Currently released on bail, the 27-year-old had urged other users on the social networking site to "burn" a local cabinet minister.


Quoting Abdul Malik, local media group Mediacorp said the police had interrogated him about his use of words "burn", "rally" and "sit-down protest". A report on news blog Temasek Reviewincluded a screen capture of his comment which was posted on Aug. 18:

Such cases are likely to continue in the future, according to Shivanu Shukla, associate director at research firm Frost & Sullivan. In a phone interview Thursday with ZDNet Asia, he said Singapore is a well-connected country with about two-third of its online population users of Facebook.

Shukla said the high user penetration enhances the potential of similar cases happening. "Social networking comes with the issue of what is [considered to be] said in the public domain and private networks," he noted.

This is not the first time arrests have been made in the city-state as a result of comments made on Facebook. In February, three youths were arrested for allegedly posting racist remarks on the social network but were subsequently released without charges made.

In neighboring country Malaysia, a Facebook user was also arrested and charged for commentsmade about burning churches on his profile page.

Shukla noted that posting comments on public networks is akin to shouting out the comments in public, where the message can reach a large audience, and added that governments have taken to monitoring social media for the public good.

He pointed to a similar incident in the United Kingdom where a man was arrested and later found guilty of violating the country's Communications Act 2003 for sending a Twitter message threatening to bomb a local airport. According to a report by The Independent, Paul Chambers had sent a Twitter message saying: "Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your s*** together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!"

Users, government play a role
According to Shukla, both online users and governments have a part to play in minimizing such incidents from occurring.

The online user community needs to be more "sensible" and understand the difference between what is said in the public domain and private network, he noted.

As for the government's role, the analyst said the legal jurisdiction around private and public social networks is still unclear. This is an area lawmakers need to look into and clear the ambiguities so that social network platform do not become a point of contention, Shukla said.

Social media is becoming more important for governments, he added, noting that such tools are used not only in security monitoringbut also to enhance business, communications and broadcasting purposes.

In Abdul Malik's case, Netizens stood in both camps where some gave their support while others said he should have expressed his views in a better way.

In the Temasek Review report, reader SorrySorry supported Abdul Malik, noting: "I pity Malik...he is just voicing his own frustration... Thumb-up for Malik for voicing out when most Singaporeans are too scared to do so." Another reader BrettLee, however, said he should have expressed himself better: "Malik was DUMB ENOUGH to use 'burn' in his statement. In my opinion, he deserved it thoroughly. I do not condone mistakes made for the YOG event, but in this case, the retard shoulda let his frustrations known in better ways."

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