Why the Star report is Bad for Bloggers

At first I wanted to write a serious post. Really serious. However I doubt that anyone really wants to read that kind of self-important tosh, so if I sound flippant, it's the negative feedback system in play. Truth is, I really want people to hear what I have to say: That Star article marks a turning point for bloggers in Malaysia. Tread carefully, the future's before us.

A little background: Malaysian bloggers rejoiced when blogging was highlighted in the newspapers recently. By in large it was a positive article, but wait. The shadow it casts is long and dark.

Suddenly, a blogger finds herself pulled (as it were) by the short and curlies. Somebody wrote to her: "I was flabbergasted to discover your blog contained profanities and unsuitable materials for children". Minishorts acknowledged this, and sort of apologised, in the economical sense that Minishorts would apologise for being herself. She said she would from now on put up a great big sign on her front page saying "Immature People Who Tell On Us To Parents Are NOT Welcome, Go Away". Well, she didn't really, she was much more polite than that, but you get the drift.

Some said she responded to criticism and fixed a problem. Others may say she allowed her rights to be compromised. Disagree? Stay with me.

I remember once, there was a young lady who posted an article about how a jewellry shop in KL screwed up a job to do something to her ring or something (make it smaller, I think). I don't have a link to that article because she took it down after the owner threatened her with a lawsuit. (I also don't have her blog, because my memory is like... wait, what's it called again?)

Now, she definitely allowed herself to get pushed around a bit, mainly because she thought shoving would be worse for her. She compromised.

Listen to me here: A strength of the Internet is that anybody is allowed to say whatever they want, however they want. Having access to this net of bits and bytes gives you unlimited and widespread freedom of speech.

(Technically, this is not true. Although the Malaysian Constitution allows freedom of speech (article 10), it has to be within the law (article 10 (2)), and the law actually says you can't publish bad stuff (Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 article 211). You've gotta love such well-defined phrases like "intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass". I'm not a lawyer, but I can see that this allows the country to protect its citizens against people who publish bad stuff on the internet. )

That strength I wrote about above? I can see some people saying that it's actually a weakness.

But who cares what you say if they're not listening? The only people who used to listen to Malaysan bloggers were Malysian bloggers. We just want to say what we want to say, how we want to say it.

This sort of freedom enables people to loudly declare how much they love each other; it allowed an experimenter to share his results; Religion can be discussed, so can politics, whether seriously or humourously. Oh yeah, there's sex too.

Now, however, more people are listening. Praise the press, blame the press.

Paradoxically, the more people that listen, the less that they want to hear. Interests are intersections, but dislikes are unions. It only takes one person find something offensive to make a whole blog offensive.

Some people ignore when they see something they don't like. Some write to the editors. And some come to your house, knock on your door, and make you feel special.

You cannot blame the Government. They exist to serve and protect. When people complain, they have to be seen to be doing something about it.

But what is "something"? Stronger libel laws that enable large companies to shut up an individual? Greater monitoring, and the publication of a hot-list of blogs with unsuitable keywords? Censorship, and I'm talking about the no-holds-barred, state-sponsored, you-couldn't-stick-a-barn-door-over-it censorship?

Here's my guess. Two things will happen to Malaysian bloggers in the next eighteen months:
  1. Bloggers will go underground: They will become anonymous and will severely delink from their real-world selves. All you self-photo bloggers out there, whore no more.
  2. Bloggers will strongly self-censor: People self-censor, but they mainly base it on their own principles. I'm talking about the kind of self-censorship where you go, "Hey, is somebody out there with a big stick going to be upset at what I write?".

Either way, it's a compromise. You limit your ablity to say what you want, how you want it. It starts with warnings, it goes on to 'toning down' and before you know it, you don't really say what you mean. It heralds the gradual eradication of your rights as a citizen of the world.

Malaysian bloggers, beware.

(Or maybe we don't have to. Maybe this post is a result of too much caffiene, not enough sleep, and a tendency to feel self-righteous. Flame me, my asbestos suit is on.)

By the way, Brand New Malaysian also has a post on the subject of what happens when bloggers become well-known, but his is on a more individual level.
posted on Sunday, June 26, 2005 - permalink
Good article, I agree with your analysis. Thus far bloggers have been writing about everything under the sun without much fear. Now if people can write a complain letter to minishorts, the blog world is under scrutinty wheter we like it or not and exposure is a two way sword, it can enhance a blog's presence or in the end curtail what the authors wishes to convey. From this point on it will be interesting to note how the Malaysian blogsphere will evolve.
Hi there: my first comment here.

Good article -- should engage Bloggers attn and debate.
Some of your "fears" are over=blown. Writers are a special breed, usually of Strong Conviction and Commitment ( a little selfpraise maybe, but whatTH, I believe it's the truth).

Minishorts gave her reply to "parent" complainant based on her viewpoints and I believe, her Conviction. There should be no grounds for the parent to complain (no, don'tt fault the Star either, as in Don't Shoot the Messenger in journales...), since she does warn about "Ranchy"-ness.

What's so bad abot some raunchiness -- some ppl want to be playing "moral guardians" -- leave that to the Chrch, Mosque, Temple or whatever. On an individual basis, generally writers have a sense of decency, for those who can capture a steady and longlasting audience (readership).

For those flippant, and non-sense Bloggers, well they cater to flippant, and nonsensical readers, Fine by me. For those who whore and display (as an Exhibit or Exhibitor), it's also Fine by me, as SPG does, that's her individual rights, as long as the Act (writing, pix, etc ) on the Blog does NOT break the law.

Let'sNOT complain when mainstream media ignore us, and when they give us good space, we look at the dark side.

There's always what MGG adopts for his CHIASROCURO columns ( bright and dark, and all the shades in between. Let's just SHARE and ENJOY. Even the fools can teach the discerning a lesson, or 2!

CHOW! as in Enjoy your ...whatever is in front on your plate; or Adieu, Not Goodbye, we'll meet again on the sphere.
Good post. The thing about the law is, you can always find a loophole to it =)

So the law says that there must be intention to annoy, irritate, blablablablabla in order to charge a person of breach of the act as long as no one had the intention to do such things, a blogger will never breach the act. So long as we do not invite ppl to come read our blog outwardly and openly, or in written form, there exist no intention.

But of course, we must be responsible for what is published online. Bloggers like minishorts are of no threat to the law & the country but bloggers like jeff ooi, mack and other bloggers of the same sort has to be very careful and I'm sure they know how careful they should be when tackling more 'serious' issues.

IMHO, when the big article on blogging came out on TheStar, I told myself, now, there is no way any blogger can blog freely anymore. Few years back, not many knew what a blog was. Ppl didn't even care. Now...everyone's watching.
Hmm ... it seems as if the press can't do anything right. When they don't highlight bloggers, people say they're ignoring bloggers. When they highlight bloggers, people say they're bringing unwanted scrutiny and thus blogs will lose their freedom of speech. ;)

The press is not some nebulous organisation with malicious purposes (at least, not always); it's made up of ordinary folks, some of which are bloggers! (Yes, like moi)

BTW, the blogger you mentioned about the whole ring fiasco is IreneQ.
Well, the recent Acid-Flask Affair across the causeway, imo is a good reflection of the very (potential) consequences you are highlighting vis "going underground' and 'self-censorship". All this in a general maxi-context as opposed to this mini-short affair. Pun intended.
The ring thing was me. When I bought it I asked the sales assistant if it was wide enough to be engraved and I was assured it was. Then they took ages to do it and I went back twice to enquire what was going on, and got some song-and-dance. Eventually they told me it was too narrow and that was causing problems. I blogged about it... and the rest you know. Original post was mirrored by this blogger:

why blog!
and i see there - no fear
Bloggers United - No Fear
i'm not a blogger but still,
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I gave up a regular job for this?

It's 4.09 in the morning, and I've just finished outlining a plot for a new series that I'm not at liberty to say what it's about. Suffice to say this: it's under time pressure and the dialogue is in Malay. I suffer for my art, and worse, I choose to do so.

I have never (never) written creative work in BM before, not since I was twelve. And even then, it was never any good. I now write entire chunks of dialogue and am told they don't sound natural. Too much BM. Too much English. That's not how kids speak. You can't write this stuff, can you? No s*** Sherlock.

I create plots that are ripped up before my very eyes and recast into something that I then spend an age arguing about before a consensus is reached (based on a hungry stomach and tired eyes). And then I realise as I'm writing it how little of it makes sense.

I stay awake until the wee hours, since that's the only time that nobody rings me up and asks me questions about -what-the-heck-. Things that could have just as easily been answered over email. But I answer them because they're the real paying jobs, unlike this crapola I'm churning out that pays less than 15 sen a word (no, I don't get paid by the word, nor by the hour, I get paid by the number of rewrites. That's right, I get paid by the amount of pain I'm put through).

All this for the glory of hearing my words mangled by a clueless actor, seeing my name obscured by subtitles, of not knowing who watches and who is touched by what I craft.

And you know what? Tonight E said to me, "You wanted to write, you went out and wrote, and now people are paying you for the privilege". And you know what else?

I enjoy every single minute. It's just some of the seconds in between I can't stand.
posted on Thursday, June 23, 2005 - permalink
"i love every minute of it, it's the seconds between i can't stand."

i love this line!!

i have to agree with sarah. i love that line too :)
hope you dont mind me blogrolling you
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Folders? They're passe. You want tags, my friend.

Occasionally (and in my case, very occasionally) you get hit by an idea that's so beautiful in it's simplicity that you know it must be right. You might just be walking along the street, or perhaps just about to fall asleep, when things fall into place, and you sit up with a jolt. It's usually something so obvious that you can't believe you never saw it before and you feel the urge to shout it to the world. Of course, it's also very rarely truly original, but that shouldn't diminish the joy of the self-developed insight. I need all the help I can to feel good about myself, you see.

The insight is this: that the folder metaphor structure used in just about every operating system to organise files is actually cumbersome and fiddly, and there is a much better way of doing things.

You see, the problem is that everyone sees nothing but folders when saving and opening files in Windows/Macs/Unix, so you put up with the problems it creates. For example, you can't put a single file in two folders at the same time, so you fiddle around with shortcuts or copies of the original (in Unix you have links, which is probably the best way of handling it).

Another example is that you might over-structure the folders, so to get to those meeting minutes, you go to "C:\My Documents\Company\Meetings\Operational\2005\January\Week_3\Minutes\FinalVersion\" to find them.

And there are more. Trying to keep links up-to-date. Trying to re-organise folders when you realise the old one doesn't work anymore. "Folder flooding" when you realise you've put too many files in the root folder and not enough in the subdirectories. Determining security restrictions when traversing folders. I could go on and on.

Practically all these problems disappear in a single swoop if you replace 'folders' with 'tagging'. Of course, tagging creates problems of its own, but I fairly certain it's better overall.

So what is tagging? Tagging is when you attach a list of keywords together with a file. So, if you know that a file is a meeting concerning marketing held on 5th November, you might tag "meeting marketing 5-Nov-2004" or something like that. Then when you want to find the file again, you go to your tag search engine and enter "meeting marketing Nov" and it might give you what you need.

The beauty is this: the person who creates the file determines the tags, and the assumption is that people who work in the same organisation are more than likely to use the same tags. And you can always add on to tags, or modify them.

"'What?!!' I hear you say. 'There'll be chaos in the streets', 'people will riot', 'everyone will do their own thing and everything will disappear in a confusing, chaotic smoke'".

Well, yes, maybe. But before we discuss the problems, let's look at some real life examples where it kinda works.

Incidentally, people have called this form of organising information 'folksonomy' and although the word is new, the ideas aren't.

Allegedly the new version of Windows ('Longhorn') was meant to move in this direction. They've dropped it, but I'm sorry they have. Folders? Pfaugh. Give me a search window any day.
posted on Friday, June 10, 2005 - permalink
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A quick personal blog here, just to keep people-I-know in the real world up-to-date. If they care, that is!

Just recently attended a meeting for a scriptwriter's meeting for a new series. Seeing that I haven't actually written anything, nor have they announced what it is, I shouldn't really say too much about it. Young girl in the city, her trials and tribulations as she interacts with family and friends? Yeah, not much of a hook, and there is - that dreaded word - sponsorship involved. But, no, it's not skin whitening cream. And I'm always assured that there is no need to actively place products in the script. That all gets done in the 'polish' phase.

Incidentally, the process is like this: Get a story outline, write a first draft, get it ripped to shreds/graffitti'ed to the core with comments, write a second draft, get more graffitti, write a third draft and then beat your head against the wall when you realise it's practically the first draft over again.

Writing is a hot, tiring, sweaty process. I close the door, turn off the phone ringer, and hunch over the PC. Yes, I sometimes write in the nude. Especially in the afternoon. It's just more comfortable that way. Sorry for the frightening imagery. Hey, my cats are nude all the time, nobody complains too much about them.

Also submitted 1 (one) script for the Shortcuts competition. I don't mind putting it up for all to see, but let's just wait for the results first, yah? And if I win... (no, please... I'll wait for the laughing to stop before I carry on...) and IF I win, I'll try to put up the film itself. To be honest, I intended to submit more than just the one, but you know what the creative process is like: Hundreds of little ideas, only five or six half-decent ones, only one gets proper treatment. E thinks that there is little to zero chance of it winning because it gets a little controversial (can't think of a better word) at one point. But nothing really bad actually happens, just insinuated.
posted on Friday, June 03, 2005 - permalink
doh! saw that shortcuts link, got interested, went to the site, saw the deadline for submissions - 31st May... doh!
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