Internet rules are necessary to restrain “pack behaviour” in social media and ensure civility between users, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in remarks released recently.
Speaking at a university forum, Lee said social media raised the risk of an overreaction from the public when contentious incidents occur in the ethnically diverse city-state, with “unrestrained, anonymous viciousness”.
Lee, who has nearly 260,000 Facebook followers, referred to several local incidents that have sparked off unbridled web outrage, including derogatory comments against Singaporeans posted on social media by British expatriate Anton Casey last week.
“Each one issue can cause a spark. Because of social media it becomes harder to settle such problems quietly and we risk having an overreaction,” Lee told students at the Nanyang Technological University.
A video of his speech was posted on his Facebook page on Wednesday.
“It becomes like pack behaviour. You scold, you swear, you curse. All the wrong instincts get fed and in a group, there's a certain group dynamic and it is like a pack of hounds hunting, which is bad,” he said.
“That by the way is also why we need rules in cyberspace..in human engagement you must have some basis on what is out of bounds, what we will comply with, what is acceptable, and what is not.”
Lee said Internet users in the city-state had the right to repudiate and condemn unacceptable acts.
“But do not lower ourselves to that same level to behave in a way which really makes us all so ashamed of ourselves,” he said.
British wealth adviser Casey was forced to temporarily leave Singapore for Australia last week after he claimed that he received “threats” following his Facebook posts disparaging Singaporean public transport commuters as “poor people”.
The Porsche-driving permanent resident, his Singaporean beauty queen wife and five-year-old son were subject to virulent anti-foreigner abuse on social media after the posts went viral last Tuesday.
Responding to a question from a student who raised concerns about a surge of expatriates in recent years, Lee said the move was necessary because the economy has grown.
Singapore is highly dependent on foreign labour. Out of its total population of 5.4 million, only 3.84 million are citizens and permanent residents.