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PM Lee cautions against lynch mob mentality

SINGAPORE — Citing the recent episode involving Briton Anton Casey, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday cautioned Singaporeans against having a lynch mob mentality, as he noted how social media has complicated society’s fault lines.

PM Lee cautions against lynch mob mentality

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong address university students at a dialogue session at the Nanyang Technological University on Jan 28, 2014. Photo: Ernest Chua

SINGAPORE — Citing the recent episode involving Briton Anton Casey, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday cautioned Singaporeans against having a lynch mob mentality, as he noted how social media has complicated society’s fault lines.

Speaking at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) ministerial forum, Mr Lee highlighted three fault lines: Between Singaporeans and those new to the country, the rich and the poor, as well as between different races and religions.

Last week, Mr Casey became the target of online vitriol after his derogatory comments about the public transport system and Singaporeans went viral on social media.

Mr Lee also mentioned the incidents where former National Trades Union Congress employee Amy Cheong and a fictitious Facebook character “Heather Chua” were condemned by Singaporeans online for posting racist comments.

“Yes, somebody has done something wrong, repudiate it, condemn it, but do not lower ourselves to that same level to behave in a way which really makes us all so ashamed of ourselves to become abusive, hateful mobs, especially online and anonymously,” said Mr Lee.

“We risk having an over-reaction, we risk having unrestrained, anonymous viciousness on the Internet,” he added, reiterating that rules are necessary in cyberspace, which the Government manages with a “light touch”.

“You scold, you swear, you curse — all the wrong instincts get fed and in a group, there are certain group dynamics and it is like a pack of hounds hunting, which is bad,” Mr Lee said. “We have to be better than that, to deal with situations civilly, patiently, tolerantly. Hold a stand, but remain a civilised human being.”

He noted that while Singapore has become more cohesive, it is important to watch out for the fault lines. One incident involving foreigners such as Mr Casey can cause people to flare up, he pointed out. “My philosophy is, yes this is bad ... (but) we have to maintain a certain equanimity and manage them without damaging our overall relationships,” he said.

New immigrants must try to integrate and Singaporeans will support their efforts, he added.

On the other fault lines, Mr Lee said race and religious matters will always be sensitive, regardless of whether the issue is about dressing or the use of certain languages at countdown events. Mr Lee was referring to the recent public discussions on the wearing of the tudung by Muslim women at work and the use of Mandarin in a MediaCorp New Year countdown show — which was televised on both Channel 5 and Channel 8 — that triggered criticism by some viewers.

But Singaporeans must adopt a broader perspective on race relations, instead of looking at each issue in isolation, he said.

On the gap between the rich and the poor, Mr Lee said more effort is needed to maintain a sense of shared purpose and mutual responsibility among Singaporeans through, for example, encouraging those who are successful to help the less fortunate and keeping the society open and informal so that all Singaporeans can interact comfortably with one another independent of their backgrounds.

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