Friday, December 29, 2006

Post No. 97: To Self-regulate or Not To Self-regulate, That Is The Question?

Yes, I am quite aware that the issue of whether the local blogging community should self-regulate itself is perhaps an “old” issue which has already been discussed by several other local bloggers.

However, seeing that I myself am a local blogger, I just thought that I should perhaps voice my opinion on this issue. It may be that what I will be saying below may be somewhat similar to what others have already said but, well, as the saying goes: “Great minds think alike” (I hate to think that it is instead a case of “Fools seldom differ”). Hopefully, some parts of what I will say below will be original and interesting (even more hopefully, the original parts will not be uninteresting while the interesting parts will not be unoriginal).

Before I move on to say anything else, allow me to perhaps give a short summary of this issue and the discussion which has been revolving around it.

If I’m not wrong, the genesis of this issue of whether the local blogging community should self-regulate itself began with this article that suggested that the local blogging community should step in to regulate itself.

Following that, 3 different camps of opinion on the issue quickly emerged within the local blogging community (apologise if I have oversimplified the situation).

The first camp of bloggers supported the concept of self-regulation, in that they decided that self-regulation would be both necessary and beneficial to the local blogging community. In fact, Mr. Aaron Ng, a local blogger supporting self-regulation, has put out drafts of a provisional blogging code of ethics on his blog.

In opposition to the first camp of opinion, the second camp of bloggers was against the concept of self-regulation, arguing that it is unnecessary to do so and would be detrimental to the local blogging community, in that self-regulation could perhaps stifle self-expression amongst local bloggers (of course, Mr. Ng recently wrote an entry on his blog arguing that self-regulation need not necessarily will stifle self-expression within the local blogging community).

Last but not least, a third camp of bloggers also emerged. As far as I know, this third camp, different from the abovementioned 2 camps, neither support nor oppose the idea of self-regulation. However, this camp questions the practicality and feasibility of such an idea.

Well, after careful consideration and reading what others have said about this issue, I think, if forced to make a choice between the 3 different camps of opinion discussed above, I will belong in the third camp of opinion. In other words, while I am neither in support of nor against the idea of the local blogging community self-regulating itself, I question the feasibility and practicality of doing so, at least for a formal/institutionalised form of self-regulation.

From what I can observe, on an informal level, the local blogging community already self-regulates itself. By this, I mean that, as far as I can see, within the local blogging community, it is the blogs which have been proven to be credible that are widely read by people, with a few exceptions, of course. Also, it can be observed that blogs which have non-credible, fallacious and/or objectionable content on them are quickly exposed by those reading them (who, more often than not, are also local bloggers themselves).

In addition, on an individual level, self-regulation by local bloggers is also perhaps in place. In other words, most local bloggers have the practice of verifying their facts, citing their sources and to be as impartial & objective as possible when writing their blogs.

That said, I think I should clarify that while I have no objections against informal and individual self-regulation by local bloggers, I have my doubts about implementing a form of formal/institutional self-regulation in the local blogging community.

For one thing, it would already be perhaps no easy task to come up with a regulation code and/or blogging code of ethics which local bloggers can all agree to. In my opinion, though some of you all may perhaps disagree with me, for a blogging regulation code and/or blogging code of ethics to have any value & credibility, it would perhaps be necessary that it has unanimous or at least close to unanimous agreement from the local blogging community. Some of you all may think that this is a non-issue but I beg to differ. I mean, just think about it, even a seemingly harmless stipulation that local bloggers should not contravene the laws of Singapore may perhaps find disapproval coming from local proponents of “civil disobedience”, who may think that unjust laws (or at least from their perspective) should not be obeyed.

Moving on, assuming that we manage to come up with a blogging regulation code and/or blogging code of ethics that is agreeable to most members of the local blogging community, who will we find to enforce such a code? Who will we delegate the task of checking whether a local blogger has contravened the code? To whom will we entrust the authority of deciding whether a local blogger has indeed contravened the code and how to deal with such an errant local blogger? Also, “quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” (for those who are familiar with Latin and/or have not read Dan Brown’s “Digital Fortress”, this phrase can be roughly translates into: “Who will guard/watch the guardians/watchers?”) Perhaps some of you all may think that such questions arose from me “thinking too much” but I believe that these are questions we will need to find answers to if we intend to go beyond the current existing informal & individual form of self-regulation within the local blogging community.

In addition, even if we manage to find a solution to the question of who to do the enforcing, we then need to think about how do we go about enforcing the code. In other words, we will need to think about what to do with a local blogger who has contravened the code. Are we to demand that he/she withdraw the objectionable content and post an apology on his/her blog? Or are we to suspend him/her from blogging or even to shut down his/her blog? Also, what if this local blogger refuse to acknowledge and/or disagree that he/she has contravened the code? How are we then to handle such a tricky situation?

Yes, I am quite aware that there have been arguments and suggestions that a blogging regulation code and/or blogging code of ethics (if one ever be implemented) need not be something that is mandatory and enforced onto local bloggers. Instead, as it is argued, it can perhaps be a pledge and/or mission statement for the local blogging community.

However, while I sincerely understand what the proponents of the above argument are proposing, I question the value of a non-enforceable blogging regulation code and/or blogging code of ethics. Correct me if I’m wrong, professions such as lawyers, journalists and doctors all have their respective regulation codes and/or code of ethics to follow and the main reason why such codes have value in the eyes of the public and those abiding by them is perhaps that such codes are mandatory and enforceable, in that there exist repercussions for breaking them. It is not for no good reason that Thomas Hobbes wrote: “Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all”. A non-mandatory and non-enforceable blogging code of ethics, in my opinion anyway, would perhaps have only symbolic value at best.

Furthermore, we need to consider the issue of who this blogging regulation code/blogging code of ethics should be applicable to. From what I can observe, there exist many different varieties of bloggers within the local blogging community. These would most probably include: i) bloggers who use their blogs as personal diaries, ii) hobby bloggers (bloggers who blog about food, music or any other hobby), iii) bloggers who advertise & sell stuff on their blogs, iv) ad hoc bloggers (bloggers who set up blogs for ad hoc purposes) e.g. NUS FASS Orientation Camp 2006 blog, v) group bloggers (bloggers who use their blogs as a “focal point” for whatever social group they belong to) e.g. NUS Campus Crusade For Christ blog and vi) bloggers who blog about current affairs. Well, in my opinion, for any blogging code to be effective and to have credibility in the eyes of people, it would be perhaps necessary for it to be uniformly & universally applicable to the entire local blogging community. This is considering that we have seen that controversies can also be caused by local bloggers who do not belong to the 6th type of bloggers mentioned above. Examples of this would be the recent “Wee Shu Min Saga”, Xiaxue’s entries about foreign workers on Orchard Road during the year-end festivities, the 2 convicted racist bloggers and the case of the local blogger who posted supposedly offending cartoons of Jesus Christ on his blog.

Yet, at the same time, it will be no easy task to make the blogging regulation code and/or blogging code of ethics uniformly applicable to all local bloggers. I say this because, in my opinion, local bloggers who do not belong to the abovementioned 6th type of bloggers would most likely be indifferent, if not apathetic, about a blogging code of ethics (assuming they are aware of its existence in the first place) and also considering the steadily increasing number of local bloggers, which would add to the difficulty of enforcing the code. Thus, on one hand, it would be necessary for us to uniformly enforce a blogging code of ethics but on the other hand, a Herculean task this would most probably prove to be.

In conclusion, if ever a formal/institutional model of blogging self-regulation is implemented, I will most probably not be against it but as of now, I have serious doubts about the practicality and feasibility of it. Perhaps we should just stick to the informal and individual self-regulation that are already in place.

1 comment:

Charissa said...

Well written discussion of the "3rd camp." I think I belong to the "3rd camp" too but leaning more towards the "no need for centralized regulation" camp. My reasons are similar to yours.... feasibility and practicality reasons.

There is already so much self-censorship in Singapore, so perhaps there is less a need for "centralized regulation" of blogs. Most bloggers are regulating themselves and others.

From all the blogs I have read, most people do not agree fully with the need for "centralized regulation."

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