A wave of promise surrounds social media as a platform that advances democratic ideals. While the bourgeois public sphere has hastened the exclusion of minority groups, citizen journalism aggregator sites here like All Singaporean Stuff (ASS) and mothership.sg have given the people – not just the wealthy – power to make their views heard.
Yet, a close look at content on these sites reveals that they could be just facades of empowerment that may not be that constructive after all. Does citizen journalism really produce legitimate political discourse in Singapore?
ASS, which models itself as “Singapore’s fastest growing news portal and a voice for the Singaporean public”, does not exactly publish, well, news. The following post calls for Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to run for the next Prime Minister on the basis that he is more handsome, charismatic and younger than American Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, contributors at Mothership, “a Singaporean community news service and content aggregator for the digital age”, are more invested in citing stories of questionable credibility in their “social commentries”.
Even Singapore Press Holdings’ citizen journalism site Stomp has repeatedly failed to moderate content uploaded by its contributors. This photograph was doctored to show a National Serviceman sitting on a reserved seat.
Social media has been heralded by Shirky (2008) as expanding freedom of speech into freedom of the press. Papacharissi (2010) adds that it has liberated the public voice by providing greater autonomy, flexibility and potential for expression.
However, citizen journalism in Singapore is severely lacking sincere, relevant and socially-driven political discourse. If a utopian state of power to the people is to be reached and we are to take online political communication seriously, much more has to be done to improve the quality of online content.