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BLOG: The remorse of a ‘racist’

Zafar Anjum | Oct. 9, 2012
Amy Cheong, Facebook and the freedom of speech

The recent Amy Cheong controversy has clearly established one thing and people in Singapore should take note of it: your personal opinion on social media sites is not personal. They become public. It may sound strange but that's how it works.

The netizens in Singapore have expressed their outrage, and rightly so, over Amy Cheong's racist remarks against the Malay community. She posted her remarks on Sunday (7 October) and by Monday, her job was gone. Her employer, NTUC, has a zero tolerance policy against racism.

Even though Ms Cheong has apologised on Twitter and Facebook, the controversy has not died down.

Looking at the reactions on the net, she has not many blind supporters but some have argued that maybe her employer overreacted by sacking her.

This is probably the first case of someone in Singapore losing his/her job over making inappropriate comments on the net.

There are many cases in other countries where people have lost their employment because of making 'inappropriate' remarks online. I haven't verified it but perhaps the first such recorded case was that of the Virgin Atlantic flight attendants who were fired for insulting passengers.  

In Asia, I remember the case of Member of Indian Parliament Shashi Tharoor who lost his ministerial post because he made derogatory remarks against economy class passengers in India. He called them the 'cattle class' passengers. This created an outrage in India and once the mass media lapped it up, Tharoor was undone.

What are the lessons here? One, when you post anything on social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, you have to be extremely cautious. These are public platforms and whatever you say, you have to bear responsibility for it.

Two, some might argue-what about freedom of speech? The fact is that freedom of speech varies from country to country and one has to be mindful when one is pushing boundaries of such a precious freedom. For example, when eminent writer Salman Rushdie argues that "freedom of speech" includes the "freedom to offend" others, it might cut the mustard in the United States of America, but it will not fly in countries like India or Pakistan or Singapore.

So, was firing Ms Cheong an overreaction? I don't think so, given the fact that her employer has a zero tolerance stance against racism. They acted as per their stated policy.

This example sends out a clear cut signal to everyone in the country-don't mess with Singapore's social fabric, its rich tapestry of multi-racial and multicultural heritage. And if you do so, it will neither be appreciated nor tolerated.

Zafar Anjum is the online editor of MIS Asia, CIO Asia, Computerworld Singapore and Computerworld Malaysia. He is the author of 'The Resurgence of Satyam: The Global IT Giant' (Random House, India), due out October 2012.

 

 

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