Mar 28, 2007

A blog is no e-surat layang

Musing by Marina Mahathir (TheStar)

OF LATE, there has been a lot of blather about bloggers from people in high places. Bloggers are apparently prone to lying, rumour mongering, and are not credible or authoritative.

Some even go so far as to charge that bloggers can cause disharmony among our people, leading to that old bogey, inter-racial violence.

It's all a bit puzzling, given this country's embrace of the Internet and desire to build a knowledge-based economy. As the eleven million Malaysians on the Internet will attest, once you're on, you're on; there is no turning back. Otherwise, why would there be websites for everything, including for government ministries?

As many writers (especially those online) have pointed out, the only people really complaining about blogs are politicians. Obviously one only complains about something that makes one uncomfortable. Why blogs should make politicians uncomfortable is of course up to anyone to surmise. But it does look as if some events are not just coincidental.

For instance, recently there have been some allegations of high-powered hanky-panky that originated on blogs, mostly to do with large sums of money. Now whether they are true or not, doubt certainly has been put in the public's mind about some people.

Therefore the proper thing to do is to investigate quickly to ascertain whether there is any basis to the allegations. If not, come out loud and clear that the poor guy is innocent. If they are true, then take the proper course of action.

Instead, the immediate reaction has been to divert attention by creating doubt in people's minds about the Internet in general and bloggers in particular. The objective of this is possibly to allow for any allegations that surface on the Net to be pooh-poohed as just some fanciful stories, and of no need for any attention.

Memos are sent out, and calls are made to various media not to pay any credence to anything interesting on the Net. If the reputation of the messenger can be sullied, then there is no need to take any action on any allegation at all.

Which sounds fine, except that of course the reputation of the person accused will never be cleared at all. The bad smell lingers. In the end, it is unfair to both innocent parties and the public.

Some people have likened blogs to surat layang, those nasty anonymous diatribes against people that circulate and are read with the same voraciousness as gossip magazines.

But there is a huge difference between those letters and blogs. For one thing, many blogs are not anonymous, unlike the writers of surat layang. Therefore bloggers who write under their own names are taking responsibility for what they are saying.

Secondly, unlike surat layang, one can always instantly respond to a blog posting by simply posting a comment. The more intelligent your response, the more likely you are to persuade people that what's reported in the blog is not credible.

Indeed, one way for politicians to counter what they view as untrustworthy and non-authoritative blogs is to start their own blogs. Since they view themselves as very credible straightforward people, whatever they say on their blogs must surely be persuasive.

In the US, politicians are increasingly turning to the Net to promote themselves, and it has worked well for many of them. Therefore, it is surely time for ours, especially those on the government side, to join in.

As they say, if you cannot beat them (and you cannot), then you might as well join them. Indeed, there are several politician blogs that could be very popular.

The only thing, however, is that politicians must be prepared for the Net to bite back at them. Unlike ceramahs to supporters and cosy chats to compliant reporters, netizens have a tendency to talk back, and not always very politely.

If they think you are talking garbage, they will tell you. The only solution to this is to not talk garbage, which apparently some of our politicians find very hard to do. Perhaps this explains their reticence in embracing the Net.

After a whole day of trying to figure out how to attract more development money one's way, the last thing anyone would have energy for is to answer aggressive questioning about some new policy. Or how one built one's new house.

Worst of all, such grouchy foot stomping about the Net only makes politicians look outdated and out-of-touch. Telling the mainstream media not to look to blogs for information only backfires. It makes the mainstream media look stupid and raises the profile of blogs, justifiably or not.

Some blogsites get more than one million hits because they talk about things the papers won't. It's an irreversible tide. Might as well flow with it, or risk drowning.

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freethinker said...

Hehe.. coincidently written sth similar yesterday in blog as well.. I guess it's common knowledge to bloggers but "news" to the public

Anonymous said...

why would politician being the only group that have that 'bloggers syndrome'? because they are the afraid one..