Thursday, May 22, 2008

Online politicization: Singapore’s source of new activists

by James Gomez

The post 2006 GE participation and exposure to online political expression and real world political activities has given birth to a new pool of civil-political activists in Singapore.

This new pool of activists who are made of mostly younger Singapore are likely to play the role of supporters, reinforcements, activists and online alternative news providers in the run up to the next general elections.

Real-time interactive environment
Singapore’s internet political landscape after GE 2006 has evolved in keeping with developments and advancements in WEB 2.0 technology. As a result almost real-time interactive capability and capacity has now become a prominent online feature of Singapore’s internet landscape.

This means that event coverage, reporting and commentary in prose and video of alternative political activities in Singapore are now almost instantaneously.

In particular, popular alternative online platforms in Singapore now consistently feature pictures and video. Political video content, especially, is getting popular because, for many, this form of content (if it is just shoot and upload) is easier to compile than writing time consuming well thought out prose.

With cheaper and dual functioned (picture and video capture features) digital cameras and the advent of distribution platforms such as YouTube, the whole process of picture taking, filming and uploading visual-audio content has become easier.

Unlike, prose, videos in particular provide real world content that viewers can now “see” for themselves thereby increasing their level of “experience” with alternative political issues and events. More elaborate production of “films” take up more resources and time to produce but they deepen the political experience further.

From online to real world interactivity
This online real-time interactivity is now leading into real-world interactivity. Unlike a few years ago when political expression was limited to online platforms, increasingly online political expression is increasingly linked to real world politics

The post GE 2006 sees those who start online initially, moving on to carry through what they say and propose on the internet in the real world. They do this by organizing and participating in real world activities of political action and protest thus completing the full circle of online-real-world interactivity.

Online political expression is thus increasingly leading to opportunities for staging pro-opposition or anti-PAP policy real world actions in Singapore.

Since GE 2006, a variety of real world campaigns organized and publicized online has taken place in the real world and more is to be expected in the run up to the next general elections.

More migration of alternative views to the Net
Given the culture of opposition party and anti-PAP policy reportage in the local media, this new online real-time real-world interactive environment is seeing an increasing migration of alternative views to the internet.

Literally anyone who does not get a letter published in the local media can now publish online on their blog or on any other site that will carry it. They can additionally air their grievance against certain PAP policy and share their personal stories and clashes with the PAP administration and institutions

Political active and aware people in Singapore also no longer need the “approval” of the organizations that they might choose to belong in the traditional sense to do the things they want to do. Individual member of NGOs or opposition parties are very much emancipated in taking their view online and then participating in direct action.

Collectively, the accumulation of alternative political expression online eventually spills over into the real world as political action and protests.

Re-defining Singapore’s online activists
The net outcome of this internet political socialization is the presence of new activists across Singapore’s civil-political landscape.

In the real world, opposition parties’ youth wings have benefited, human rights and political issue groups has seen more youth interest at their activities. In the online world others have joined the legions of bloggers contributing to the myriad of political opinion on the Net.

Using the internet to publicize what they want and attending as observers or taking part in activities where they want in the real world of politics make Singapore’s internet using political activists a new emerging force.

Limiting oneself strictly to an online presence does not complete the full circle of interactivity as Web 2.0 technology and society integrates further. Neither does claiming to be an online activist simply by limiting ones action to online platforms singularly.

This means widening the definition of an online activist to necessarily also mean someone who will also be a real world activist

A disparate group
Post GE 2006 shows there is a shift from whence young people and others who limited their political expression and activity to only online platforms to more moving to use the interactive features of the present web technology to be in evolved in real life actions.

But this new group of activists are not united in their push against the republic’s anti-democratic target - the People’s Action Party, instead have become aligned to the present divisions within the larger civil-political landscape in the city-state.

Unlike in other Asian countries where the young or a newly internet politicized can be a force of their own, in Singapore these politicized internet savvy youths remain a disparate group.

They do not work as a broad coalition among themselves for democratic change in Singapore. However, the various groups know they exist and know of each others alignment, however there is little cross communication between the different forces.

Conclusion: Reinforcements for GE 2010b
Not withstanding the above, the maintenance of individual blogs and the contribution of content and opinions to online forums, websites and blog aggregators have become key mechanisms of political socialization in Singapore since 2006 GE.

This explains why there has been a visible increase in the number of people being involved in online staged real world actions.

As the level of interactively and real time speed increases this will have a direct bearing on political expression and action in Singapore.

The real world platform where all these new activists will converge would be at Singapore’s next major political event – GE 2010.