Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How can we tame the new media for the next General Election?


Mr Teo walked into the meeting room with a brand new mini notebook on his right hand. Ah Tan, Ah Lim and Ali stared at the new mini notebook ravenously, forgot to even greet Mr Teo.

MR TEO (clearing throat): Uh-em... Gentlemen...

Quickly, the three men snapped out and greeted Mr Teo. They smiled apologetically.

MR TEO: Gentlemen, I'm sure you must be wondering why am I bringing a notebook into the meeting. Well, I can assure you that this first time is not going to be the last time. First of all, I've got good news for you. You may each get a new notebook as well. Susan will see to it.

Almost together, all three men punched their fists in the air and cheered.

MR TEO: These new notebooks are the essential tools in your new project, and you're required to use your notebook in each and every one of the project meeting. Now the bad news. This is going to be a three-years long project, and failure is not acceptable!

The three men gasped and stared at Mr Teo.

AH LIM (gingerly): Er... Sir, what exactly is this important project?
ALI (still gasping): Sir! Are we going to use these notebooks to use GPS to track down Mas Selamat?
MR TEO (towards Ali): No! We are not using these notebooks to track down Mas Selamat! It's the police's job, not ours! We've got more important things to do! And seriously, I don't think we can use GPS to track down Mas Selamat! You've watched too much C.S.I.!

Ali smiled and nodded apologetically at Mr Teo.

MR TEO: Gentlemen, the Boss has confirmed that our next General Election is set to be in 2012. And his instruction is that we need to actively engage and leverage on the new media at the next General Election. During the last US election, President Barrack Obama's team not only put out messages on the Web during his campaign, but also operated on the Web as a means of working together, organising and raising money. We are expected to do, not the same, but better than them! So this is our new project! How to make the Internet works for us for the next General Election!
AH TAN (nodding): This project is indeed not going to be easy.
MR TEO: Exactly. That's why we need to start now. From now till 2012, we've got three years to tame the web.

Mr Teo walked towards the white board and started writing the words "How to make the web works for us, not against us".

MR TEO: Currently we are engaging citizens online through portals such as REACH, our very important and efficient feedback arm, as well as new media outlets such as Facebook. Are you guys familiar with these? Tan?
AH TAN: Hmm... After a netizen has registered at REACH, he or she may start posting in the forum about any issues, or even to comment about the new policies.
MR TEO (nodding): Correct! And to comfort those panaroid ones, we don't even make it compulsory for them to register with their NRIC number!
AH LIM: Wow! We've got that? We just let those people complain so openly?
AH TAN: No, no... any of the netizens can join in the discussion, but we set the topic and we start the thread. Of course we'll only have friendly topics like "CPF Life made simple" and "More help for the vulnerable in society"! Don't expect to find those preposterous topics like "Flawed Job Credit Scheme benefits employers more than workers"! We're not Sammyboy yeh!

Mr Teo patted Ah Tan's back agreeably and nodded.

ALI (rubbing chin slowly): So it's like we give the people a chance to talk to us, but we decide what we want to hear?
MR TEO: Yes, Ali. Unfortunately this is necessary. The internet is not an effective self-regulated regime, remember?

Ali nodded his head gently. Still staring blankly and his fingers still rubbing his chin slowly.

MR TEO: Well, the Boss had put it very simply. He said, "there is a place called the Wild West and there are other places which are not so wild"...
AH LIM: Wah! Chim!

All stared at Ah Lim's sudden reaction.

AH LIM (smiling apologetically to Mr Teo): Sorry, Sir...

MR TEO (clearing throat): And in these Wild West, these frivolous websites, blogs and forums, people can say anything they want, and tomorrow take a completely contrary view. On the other hand, there are places in the Internet which are more considered, more moderated, where people put their names down and identify themselves. And there is a debate which goes on and a give and take, which is not so rambunctious but perhaps more thoughtful.

Mr Teo paused and found the three men staring at him quietly.

MR TEO: Gentlemen, am I losing you?
AH TAN: No Sir, I can completely understand what the Boss is saying, but... you mean, there are other forums out there that are as tightly controlled as REACH?
MR TEO (hesitating): Er... I guess so... I suppose this is what he meant...

Ah Lim and Ali muttered softly to each other and scratched their heads.

MR TEO: Anyway, I believe what the Boss has wanted us to do, is to make sure that bloggers, website proprietors and all netizens behave themselves on the Internet. And this has to be achieved by 2012!
AH TAN: What do we need to do?
MR TEO: Okay, here's a few things on our plate. We need to make sure that those people stop posting preposterous topics on forums that will affect our standing in the next General Election.
AH TAN: Hmm... But stopping people from posting freely on forums will be difficult.
AH LIM: Can't the censorship board help?
AH TAN: Don't think so...

Ah Tan stared at the celling blankly, tapping his fingers on the table. A few minutes later, he stopped abruptly and smiled.

AH TAN: Sir, we can employ a team of elites to work full time on this project. Their job will be to surf forums and post comments. As soon as they find anyone posting any comments on any topics that are of disadvantage to us, they shall rebuke and condone those comments.
AH LIM (interrupting): Ah! You mean, like if they comment that a two cents cut for the public transport is too little, our guys will sneak in and comment that they should not be asking for too much?
AH TAN: Hmm... yes, something like that.
MR TEO (nodding and typing on his new mini notebook): Good idea! But I'll need them to do one more thing. As soon as they come across any blog or website that is writing anything that does not agree with our policies, keep them under the radar. As soon as any of these sites write anything that looks chargable, print out the site and send to Legal for advice.

Ah Tan scribbled on his notepad quickly.

MR TEO: We'll also need to keep track of websites and blogs that are related to the opposition parties. This includes also those sites that agree with the opposition parties or are linking to them.
ALI: Wow Sir, there's a lot of them out there!
MR TEO (with a stern voice): Yes, I know. But we've got to keep an eye on these sites. During the last election, so many sites had uploaded videos of opposition parties' rallies. The Boss was very furious. Very furious.

All three men nodded solemnly.

MR TEO: And lastly but most importantly, we want the people to believe what they read from the newspapers and local TV news, not from what they read online. We must make them understand that only the traditional media will present trusted, unbiased and informed opinions! AH TAN (muttering): Hmm... that's true... If they don't believe in what the newspapers writes or what the local TV news says anymore, then what's the point of us controlling them?
MR TEO: In the past, the newspapers and local TV news are all they've got. It was so much easier for us to tell them only what we want them to know. But with Reuters.com, Bloomberg.com and whatever, they are knowing more than what they should know! And to make matters worse, we've got political blogs and websites spawning all over the place, commenting on our policies and affecting the netizens!
AH TAN: I get what you mean. The Temasek and GIC incident had sparked off so much heat all because there are just too many blogs and websites talking about it and questioning about the loss.
MR TEO: That's my point! These political blogs and websites are actually teaching our people how to think! Geez...



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