Week 10: Social Media and Internet Activism in Singapore

The topic this week is kind of linked to one of my research projects in another subject: SOC 349 Classical Sociological Theories! We looked at satire in Singapore media, and examined what are the functions that it serves in the Singaporean context. In case you are wondering what satire means,

Satire is a powerful art form which has the ability to point out the deficiencies in certain human behaviours and the social issues which result from them in such a way that they become absurd, even hilarious, which is therefore entertaining and reaches a wide audience.

It is a commonly used tool in other countries mainly in The United States, with talk shows like The Daily Shows with Jon Stewart, pseudo-news website The Onion, and even comics!

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Of course with the rise of social media, the spread of such media is even wider! Take this hilarious video, critiquing the US intervention in the Middle-East, has gathered over 6 million views!

In Singapore, there has been a rise in satirical media as well recently, though of course not on that level. Now, there might have been others but the first one I was exposed to was the Mr.Brown Show, created in 2005. At that time, it was just audio podcasts by  Lee Kin Mun and Benjamin Lee. Their hilarious parodies and commentaries were refreshing yet full of local flavour that connected with us in our tightly regulated environment then. Since then, the show has gone on to  create videos, and other shows on its own website, youtube channel, Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram! Here is one of their recent videos:

There are also other many other channels such as sgag.sg, a website that has hopped on the trend wagon of 9gag and memes to poke fun at things in Singapore. Common topics include

Government policies

                                                Government policies

Rising Costs

                                                         Rising Costs

Transportation

                                                           Transportation

Amongst other topics, these are some of the favorites! So this website, citizens are free to submit their own memes to share to the local public. Viewers who see the memes and find it funny, would share it on their own social media which spreads to everyone.  Besides s9ag, there are similar websites like SMRT (Feedback) that have a strong presence on social media.

However, an analysis of the satirical media in Singapore shows that it is not serving the same function of its counterpart in other countries. We surveyed over 50 students (in SIM) about their thoughts on this issue. Many responses showed that besides raising awareness on certain issues in Singapore, it does not incite much social change or influence the government as much. The tone of the satirical media have gone ‘too entertaining’ to be taken seriously to create much of an impact. This can be seen from one of the responses on their opinions on satirical media:

Just for laughs. Never treat them too seriously as they often shed superficial lights about the issues, and disregard some other more important aspects. They are not meant to solve problems!

However, there are some areas that social media is creating waves, or perhaps more like ripples for now, in the public.  For example the Facebook page:

Petition to remove Tin Pei Ling as a MP

46,036 likes · 3,642 talking about this

that was created during the hype when she was first announced as PAP’s youngest candidate. It has since evolved into a popular place that posts news about our country and social issues, inviting viewers to think critically about them. They have become so popular that they have created a site called  www.TheRealSingapore.com, which is very active on Facebook on socio-political issues, but in my opinion, are quite biased to be anti-government.

The Real Singapore

155,405 likes · 57,242 talking about this

Nonetheless, its popularity and influence is a sign that social media is an outlet for socio-political commentaries and citizen activism. The Real Singapore calls themselves the Voices of Average Singaporeans.

I think Singapore still has a long way to go before we become as outspoken and declarative on socio-political issues. We have a culture of apathy, “complaint-but-no-action”, or perhaps we all know that despite all the problems, we already have the better end of the stick. But I think the rise of social media and satire can help to keep us aware of what is going on around us, and hopefully help the communication between the government and its people rather than create a mess  and dissatisfaction. It takes both hands to clap, for the people to voice their opinions but have patience, and more importantly, for the government to recognise their voice, listen and take action.

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