While I welcome and accept criticisms of my opinions, I think we will agree that there is a line which we should not cross. And calling or wishing for me, my family members or Vui Kong’s lawyer, M Ravi, to “hang” or be “killed” is going beyond the pale.
Yet, these are not unusual on the Net nowadays. It makes you wonder first, why these posters would find it acceptable to post such comments in public; second, if they really mean what they say; third, what drives them to act in such a way.
But those are questions to be answered by someone who is more interested in getting into the heads of such posters.
For me, it gives credence to the charges by the government that some parts of the Internet are “cowboy towns” or that some are of the “lunatic fringe”. Looking at the comments quoted above – and some posted in other blogs and forums – one can understand why the government would think that way.
It is easy for us to then raise a howl, flail our arms in desperate protests and accuse the government of being a big bully. It is especially easy to do these things now that the government is reported to be looking into drawing up new laws “against harmful and unlawful online conduct as the proliferation of new media brings about new challenges to the rule of law.”
We want to be seen to be mature and rational and intelligent. Nothing wrong with that. But calling for someone to be killed for no other reason than that you disagree with his opinion is just not mature, rational or intelligent, whichever way you cut it.
Have you had someone wished you were dead? Well, if you had, you might support the government’s position on tighter regulations. None of that warm and fuzzy, high-fallutin idea of free speech having to be unfettered.
What if you had been the target of online critics who then act out their threats in real life? What if they came to your home, took pictures of it and post them in online forums and make disguised threats against your mother? What if they also say that they have already bought a “bicycle chain” for your front gate?
These are not hypotheticals. They happened to me some years ago. And of course, I made a police report about this. What else would you do, if someone made threats against your elderly mother with whom you live?
Here is another example of cyber harassment, and an utterly vicious one at that. The case is now before the police – one year after the initial threats and stalking took place. It is still happening.
So, when we say we want freedom of speech, lets pause a moment.
What I feel some fail to recognise is that there are all sorts of people out there who would carry out their threats.
Sometimes proponents and defenders of free speech have their eyes closed, and perhaps wish not to see the uglier side of free speech. Some say victims or targets of such abuse should just learn to suck it up. “Grow up”, they’d say.
It is easy to say this when you do not live in fear that the threats made against your loved ones, or yourself, may be carried out - in real life.
So, what is the solution to this sort of criminal or criminal-like behaviour?
I won’t pretend to know.
But what I do urge proponents of free speech to take into consideration is that there are real threats out there. My personal experience has taught me that you cannot pretend that everyone is as responsible or sensible as you may be. Or that “community moderation” is effective or that it is the cure to the ills of the Internet. That would be naïve.
Even a former Nominated Member of Parliament, who believes in freedom of speech, feels there are limits to it.
I agree with him.
For me, short of making police reports (and hoping that the police will follow through with them), there is nothing more I can do – except maybe to withdraw from participating in online discourse altogether.
But if that is the result or consequence of free speech, then it would be thoroughly ironic, wouldn’t it?
One day, we may wake up to find the online space ruled by bullies and those whose solution to winning an argument is to make and then carry out threats in real life. We might even call that supposedly "free online space" the "bastion of free speech".
For me, for now, the hate speech directed at me over disagreements about my article on the death penalty will not deter me from speaking out against it. But this is not because I want to prove I won’t be cowed. Nah. It is simply because, in my opinion, the practice of putting someone to death is utterly flawed.
I wish those who attacked me felt the same. Then again, it is me that they want dead too.
And they would probably also say it is their right to free speech to call for my death.