Singapore “citizen journalism” portal Straits Time Online Mobile Print (STOMP), a subsidiary of the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), has provoked the ire of 23,000 signees of a public petition to shut down the website.
STOMP is a community based platform and has gained notoriety for publishing fabricated news, and for publishing articles that seem aimed at inflaming sentiments. Its main competitor is The Real Singapore (TRS). While TRS is owned privately, STOMP is run by a national media outlet.
STOMPers seem to play the role of social vigilantes, the vanguard of phototaking and uploading, with most of their posts designed to provoke anger and controversy. Unverified reports suggest that contributors are given an SGD50 (US$40) voucher for every published contribution.
A significant number of posts are on National Servicemen (all Singaporean males are conscripted for two years). In 2013, one STOMPer posted an article of a third sergeant urinating on his officer’s bed just before the former’s release from service. The article was shortlisted as contribution of the month. The servicemen involved were court martialed, placed in detention barracks and demoted.
Another article lambasted a Singaporean National Serviceman for not giving up his seat to an old lady; the uploaded photo was cropped to remove a reserved seat that the old lady chose not to sit on.
In 2012, a staffer at STOMP was found to have lied about a photograph taken on a Singapore train, claiming that a door was open while the train was moving. The lie was spotted and the staffer was sacked.
While SPH’s main broadsheet, the Straits Times, decried anti-foreigner sentiments on the island, STOMP has published a lot of xenophobic content.
In March 2013, political correspondent Tessa Wong wrote in an article for the Straits Times (Zero tolerance for intolerance) on xenophobia, saying that “there can be no justification for hating another person for being a foreigner, and this kind of discriminatory behaviour should never be allowed to take root in a Singapore that has always been open and tolerant of many faiths and races.”
She should perhaps have sent the article to her colleagues at STOMP.
The publication was central in the public shaming of Anton Casey – a wealthy British expatriate who was flamed on the net and terminated from his job for calling public transport users poor and smelly.
Shortly after the Anton Affair, STOMP launched a “Don’t be a Facebook Idiot” Campaign, encouraging people to submit articles on Facebook Idiots so that others would learn to be responsible users of the Internet.
“STOMP is attempting to normalise and legitimise what are essentially acts of Internet vigilantism,” said Prof Tan Cheng Han, president of the Media Literacy Council. Dr Cherian George, a media expert and member of the Media Literary Council said, “just because it is a platform for user-generated content does not diminish its responsibility as a curator and taste-maker. Unfortunately, from its very start, STOMP has pandered to people’s desire to see or read about others behaving badly.”
The local media regulator responded to the petition in a Facebook post, saying “while it is not for MDA to influence the editorial slant of sites, we would [take]… firm action if any Internet content provider is in breach of the Internet Code of Practice. These typically cover content that is against public interest and/or content that promotes racial and religious hatred or intolerance.”
Many responded negatively to the statement. Hosung Ryang wrote, “Are you guys so ignorant on your high horse? STOMP is the major one that is causing so much misleading sensationalist ‘news’, despite repeated outcry by the citizens that it is doing way more harm than good (if any)… We are not asking for “stricter regulation” of the Internet… we are asking for the removal of this cancerous tumor that is spreading nothing but vile intents in our society. Is it too much to ask for?”
Cory Tan questioned the credibility of SPH: “If STOMP… continues to publish such untruths, then are the newspapers and news sites [managed] by SPH also prone to such acts of manipulation of public opinion?”
This is not the first time the credibility of SPH has been called into question. In late November 2013, former opposition candidate Nicole Seah posted an image her Facebook page of her with her then boyfriend (a divorcee). The picture was sensationalized by two SPH-run papers as her having an affair with a married man. Asiaone and Lianhe Wanbao were forced to retract the story and apologise for their reporting.
“When it comes to free expression and commentary on socio-economic issues, you unwaveringly force websites to conform to your confoundingly complicated and onerous conditions and processes. When it comes to dealing with trashy entertainment, you hesitate and behave like a regulator that is out of its depth?” wrote Davin Ng.
Prominent voices on the Internet are split on the issue. While some like Jeraldine Phneah have argued for the petition to be signed, others like Andy Wong have argued that signing the petition to close STOMP would be an attack on freedom of expression.
“Stomp may be the wrong thing to read, but those who support freedom of expression should take a step back and look at the bigger picture.”
An alternative petition has now been put up entitled ‘Shut down TRS’. At the time this article was written, the petition had garnered about 200 signatories. It remains to be seen how this tit-for-tat will end.