I was intrigued by Leslie Koh’s article in ST today. He’s calling on the silent majority to speak up lest the vocal online minority sways public opinion. He also thinks it dangerous for decision-makers to put too much store by these vocal online voices.
It’s interesting because I agree that the online “vocalists’’ do not represent the vox populi, but the question I think then should be: who does? Can we say that the mainstream media speaks for the silent majority then? After all, with its resources, it can afford to take the pulse of the people in its reporting and writing. Also, it too has its own share of commentators, plus the usual (very usual) suspects who are called upon to comment on the news. The clout of a newspaper commentator is far greater than that of any online blogger in the eyes of decision-makers, whether in the Government or private sector.
I doubt, however, that any mainstream media or news commentator would claim to be able to speak for all Singaporeans, including the silent majority. It would smack too much of hubris.
(Here’s an aside: If people are silent, how would anyone know what they are thinking anyway? And if someone who was previously silent speaks up, will he automatically be classed among the vocal rabble? Which means… there will always BE a silent majority everywhere and all the time. No point telling them to speak up. Only during election time can the silent majority claim to have spoken, that is, once every four or five years. In-between, most of us have delegated our brains elsewhere while we carry on with our business as usual.)
Back to business. If an online commentator thinks he is the voice of the silent, then he should think again. What he has is HIS view and maybe that of his circle of friends. But what is clear is that the online voices represent a different kind of view, which may or may not be the majority view, and which is not usually seen in MSM.
Should decision-makers take their voices into account? And if so, by how much? Turn the question around and ask if the decision-makers should take the MSM voices into account, and whether the people should as well. I would say yes, because the MSM is an established player in the business of opinion-shaping and privy to a lot more information than the ordinary fellow. But I would say yes to considering online voices too, simply because they are NOT established players, and are NOT privy to privileged information and background. That means, they are MORE like the ordinary fellow. That’s why so many people enjoy reading online stuff; it SOUNDS like them.
Sure, the views can be malformed because they are un-informed, emotional, knee-jerk reactions or even activated by an agenda or motivated by malice. They are individual and independent, actuated by their own world view and experiences.
Filtering the useful insight from the online fluff, huff and puff might be more difficult but it is still a worthy exercise because there are gems to be read online which differ from the national narrative that the MSM adheres to. Even the fluff, huff and puff is worth weighing because it could reflect strands of sentiment that the MSM doesn’t.
As for its influence on the people at large, look at it this way: Just as the MSM is a small group reaching to a big group of mainly passive consumers, so it is too that most people on Facebook and social media are just “watchers’’. I would give BOTH sets of people some credit and believe (or try to believe) that they do not swallow whatever they read or listen. In other words, even if they are not media literate, they should have some common sense.
Still, if MSM cannot hold the attention of its market, the market will move to other sources. For that reason, decision makers should heed the views on those other sources and do the same but more difficult job of filtering out the considered from the crazy; the reality from the propaganda.
You know, it’s really odd that in the past, we used to say that Singaporeans were too afraid to speak up because of a supposed culture of fear. Now that technology allows them to do so easily, we are just as worried that they might get carried away.