#STOMPgate – Singapore online community’s moment of sweet schadenfreudeBy Kirsten Han Jun 26, 2012 1:03PM UTC
Singapore Press Holdings’ (SPH) – the organisation which owns and runs newspapers, magazines and websites (among other things) – has had to apologise to public transport provider SMRT after a content producer on their citizen journalism portal STOMP (Straits Times Online Mobile Print) was found to have posted false information about the operation of a Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) train.
Ms Samantha Francis, under the anonymous nickname of ‘wasabi’, had initially submitted an article containing a photograph of an MRT train with its doors open, alleging that there had been a fault and that the doors had not closed while the train was moving from one station to another.
The story spurred an investigation by SMRT, which Ms Francis assisted in. However, SMRT checked its CCTV footage as well as Ms Francis’ ez-link card and found out that she had not been at those particular stations at that time, which led them to question the article. After further questioning by SPH Ms Francis admitted that she had not taken the photo, but had found it on Twitter. The original tweet accompanying the image is no longer available.
Hailed by SPH as a leader in Singapore’s citizen journalism, STOMP portrays itself as a portal where members of the public submit stories and photographs for discussion. This episode has revealed that content producers – employees of STOMP – mine the Internet for content that then gets published as submissions from the public (or STOMPers).
Is this common practice for STOMP? It certainly isn’t the first time STOMP has taken something from another source and posted it as its own content.
A great loss of face for mainstream media…
Singapore’s government has, for a long time, gone on and on about the dangers of trusting alternative media, citing a lack of credibility and the spreading of misleading or false news. On the other hand, the mainstream media has been praised for its balance and trustworthiness. Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts Yaacob Ibrahim once said that the mainstream media would be able to “separate the wheat from the chaff” and “set the right tone online”.
But in this case, not only did a STOMP employee publish false information, other mainstream media papers like The New Paper also carried the story, apparently without verifying it themselves.
Say what now, Minister?
After this whole incident blew up, popular socio-political blog The Online Citizen (TOC) wrote an editorial criticising STOMP and emphasising TOC’s own fact-checking policy.
TOC understands the importance of maintaining the integrity of citizen journalism. This is why we ensure that every contributor of TOC is readily identifiable by putting the real name of the author in each article.
Our policy allows writers to use pseudonyms only when we know who they are in real-life and there is a very good reason for the use of pseudonyms, such as whistle-blowing. Even then, we will always do our best to do fact-checking before publishing a story.
While it is true that misinformation is also widespread in alternative media, the government’s attempts to discredit alternative media portals have often been associated with an attempt to suppress Internet freedom and independent news reporting. While mainstream media sites are linked to the government, alternative media has grown through independent grassroots efforts, with many bloggers critical of the government and its policies.
Now, with such a public embarrassment for STOMP and its owner SPH, members of Singapore’s online community are enjoying a sweet moment of schadenfreude where the government’s trumpeting of mainstream media over alternative media has been undermined.
…but was STOMP ever a credit to mainstream media?
Such an episode related to STOMP probably has not come as a surprise to many Singaporeans. Although touted as a “citizen journalism” website, STOMP has been rejected by a large number of citizen journalists in Singapore as a credible website. Over the years it has become more known for trashy posts of butt cracks, public displays of affection and xenophobia-stirring posts on foreign workers than for hard-hitting grassroots reportage of local issues.
When our leaders rail against online platforms that spread hate, divide communities and “damage our social fabric”, they really have to look no further than STOMP. STOMP has constantly been brought up as a counter-argument to the establishment’s claim that the mainstream media is the most reliable source. Now, with this very public screw-up, the government and mainstream media should know that they’re not going to live this down for a very, very long time.
As we say in Singapore, “orh bi good“. (Translation: “You had it coming.”)