From ‘PM:Two elements key to online resilence’, 23 Aug 2013, article by Rachel Chang, ST
…”First of all, you must not be ashamed of what you are doing,” he said. “If there are some naysayers, you must decide if you have the majority with you or not.”
He said that in cyberspace, “some generally disagree, some are just looking for things to disagree with you about”.
“But if you want to do something for Singapore, you should not be deterred because there are some nasty postings. In public life, you must learn to have thick skin at the right places, in the right times.”
While noting that it can be intimidating for those not in public life to be flamed online, he said: “I am in public life. You flame me, I’m flame-proof!”
It’s been more than 2 years since our PM started dabbling with social media, and I’m not sure if this assertion that he’s immune to flaming is a veiled warning to online critics, or a display of renewed tolerance to criticism. You can crack a childish joke about the prime minister, make him a ‘Mee Siam Mai Hum’ meme, or even satirise him as an incompetent leader in a cartoon strip, but he’s likely to turn a blind eye to it all. Having ‘thick skin’ is important if you need to make unpopular decisions as a leader, though on the flip side it also makes you pretty shameless when you have it at ‘the wrong time’, like taking home free toothpicks from Din Tai Fung for example.
Other than the occasional lawyer’s letter, maybe we should be thankful that at least we don’t live under the Thai King, where by rule of ‘lese-majeste’ you could be put in jail for up to 20 years for ‘flaming’ the monarchy. For all the vile chatter going online, I’m surprised that our government hasn’t imposed a ‘Lee-majeste’ to shut everyone up, or they simply delegated the dirty work to the MDA to discourage online naughtiness under the subtle guise of regulation.
The term ‘flaming’ has been in use since 2005 to describe students griping about and insulting their teachers on blogs. Today it encompasses all sorts of negative behaviour online, be it vengeful cursing, snide cynicism or playground taunting in the vein of ‘My dad is better than your dad’. In its more sinister forms, it can take the form of malicious Photoshopping, or using metaphors which the authorities would take literally as setting the target on fire. Ironically, despite PM Lee telling us that he’s flameproof, you’ll most likely get arrested and charged for inciting violence if you threaten to ‘burn him and the PAP’.
It took our PM 6 years to catch up with ‘flaming’ as Internet jargon, and ventured into the online universe which he used to call ‘cowboy towns‘ with an opening salvo containing this very term on a Facebook webchat in 2011 that many Singaporeans at the time deemed, well, CUTE.
No smiley face in the world will protect you from online vitriol, and maybe our PM realises by now that such humble requests are ineffective against naysayers, no matter how ‘newbie-ish’ you are, or how much you resemble a cute, clueless uncle who doesn’t know any keyboard shortcuts other than Ctrl-Alt-Delete. Unlike his father, PM Lee isn’t one to slam his fists on tables or point sharp accusing fingers at his opponents, but it remains to be seen if his genial, open-arms style will win the hearts of online critics who wouldn’t think twice about calling him a two-faced douchebag, flameproof or not.
Being flameproof doesn’t protect one from being ‘taken out of context’ however, as what happened to PM Lee’s comments on the Diaoyu islands being ‘distorted’ into a sensational headline in the Global Times news site. Other than the body armour, our PM has got the entire MFA as a backup weapon, ready to fire back at the pull of a trigger. He may be flameproof, but perhaps not yet DRUMS-proof.