PAP CYBER ARMY COUNTERS CRITICISM OF PARTY, GOVT ON INTERNET SINCE 2007

First published by Straits Times on Feb 3, 2007

By Li Xueying

THE People's Action Party (PAP) is mounting a quiet counter-insurgency against its online critics.

It has members going into Internet forums and blogs to rebut anti-establishment views and putting up postings anonymously.

Sources told The Straits Times the initiative is driven by two sub-committees of the PAP's 'new media' committee chaired by Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen.

One sub-committee, co-headed by Minister of State (Education) Lui Tuck Yew and Hong Kah GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad, strategises the campaign.

The other is led by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Baey Yam Keng and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Josephine Teo. Called the 'new media capabilities group', it executes the strategies.

Both were set up after last year's General Election. Aside from politicians, some 20 IT-savvy party activists are also involved.

When contacted, Mr Baey declined to give details of the group's activities, but he outlined the broad principles of the initiative.

It was necessary for the PAP to have a voice in cyberspace as there were few in the online community who were pro-establishment, he said.

As such, the committees aim to 'observe how new media is developing and see how we can use the new media as part of the overall media landscape', he added.

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'How do we facilitate views that are pro-party and propagate them through the Internet?'

The approach reflects comments by Rear-Admiral (NS) Lui at the PAP's party conference in December. He called on younger activists to put up views 'to moderate the vitriol and balance the skewed comments' on the Internet.

But this can only work if activists are not 'too obvious' about it, Mr Baey said yesterday. Otherwise it comes across as 'propaganda'.

'The identity is not important. It is the message that is important,' he added.

One activist who is involved said that when posting comments on online forums and the feedback boxes of blogs, he does not identify himself as a PAP member.

He tracks popular blogs and forums to 'see if there is anything we can clarify' on hot-button topics such as the impending hike in the Goods and Services Tax.

But he added: 'We don't rebut everything. Sometimes, what is said is fair enough, and we send the feedback on to the committee.'

This latest initiative comes on top of a blog site with posts by 12 MPs born after Singapore's Independence in 1965.

It recognises that more younger Singaporeans are relying on the new media as a main source of information.

An Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) study conducted last year found that younger and better-educated Singaporeans relied on information from the Internet when shaping their voting choices at the last GE.

Among the opposition parties, members and supporters of the Workers' Party, in particular, post regularly on forums online.

But IPS senior research fellow Tan Tarn How wonders about the effectiveness of the PAP's campaign.

He said Internet users who post on forums such as Sammyboy tend not to be interested in 'intellectual debate' and so will not be persuaded by PAP activists anyway.

As for more serious-minded bloggers, he said the views that the activists may put out are already available in the mainstream media.

xueying@sph.com.sg

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