Following the incident in which a student posted an ‘academic blacklist’ of international students, The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) sent out an email warning to its students about the school’s regulatory guidelines on internet postings. The ‘academic blacklist’ contained the personal details of a list of international students — including their nationalities and photographs — accompanied by testimonials from their classmates reproaching their work attitudes and behavior.
The email, titled “Message on Exercising Freedom of Expression Responsibility“, warned students in particular not to ‘make comments that cause hatred or dissatisfaction with the Singapore justice system’ and not to create ‘web pages/blogs containing information on religion or politics’ unless the student has ‘acquired proper licences from the Media Development Authority AND the written approval of the University.’
Judging by the wide net of regulations it has casted, many blogs and webpages created by its students would have easily ran afoul of what the university claims is ‘exercising freedom of expression responsibly.’
While the list of regulations has a few sound guidelines on exercising exercising free speech on the internet, it makes no case to explain why dissatisfaction with the Singapore Justice system, if there was ever one, could not be freely expressed by its students. At the same time, the insistence on a complete blanket ban on blogs that discuss politics or religion without acquiring ‘proper licenses’ from MDA and the school contravenes the very tenets of freedom of speech.
Interestingly, judging from the contents posted, the blog TheLiberatingTruth, which was responsible for the e-mail reminder, would not have contravened any of the guidelines stated by NTU. Firstly, the blog is neither a site that discusses politics or religion, and neither is it a complete fabrication of allegations against the international students. The testimonials posted on TheLiberatingTruth, which has since shut down, are based on real-life experiences and encounters by classmates of these international students.
The guidelines for exercising freedom of speech responsibly on the internet seemed to have confused responsible commentary on the internet with ‘positive’ commentary — insofar as you only limit your opinions about another organization, person or entity to positive or nice-sounding words, you are deemed to have commented ‘responsibly.’
This is surely a travesty to the term ‘responsibility’ — it is not simply a matter of toeing the safe-line and to have only praises on a subject-matter when criticism is also due. If a good friend of yours asked for your opinion on an essay that is due for submission, would you only mention the good parts of the essay while neglecting the fact that there are some critical loopholes in her argument? Should this be considered as ‘responsible’ commenting?
Surely, one would rather be forthright in one’s comments to help our friends score a better essay result — rather than just saying the nice things, all the time.