Before sharing opinions on national identity from WhatsApp Uni, ask this: ‘Whose house is it anyway?’

Have you been to the University of WhatsApp recently?

Or the Telegram Academy? The College of WeChat? is asking since China over the weekend (Oct 15) declared its rising international influence, appeal and power to shape the world.

Because on all these social media sources, people like to group up there for understanding why and what to think. 

The issues? Anything ranging from the price of laksa (“always up”) to how Covid’s going (“it’s a Western plot!”) to when things will get better (“never, we are doomed”).

The textbooks for these social media sources? Anyone can come up with them, never mind that you can just make things up. Then everyone can share.

In fact, the more jialat or sensational to share, the better.

This whole social media misinformation process, seriously, is pretty darn problematic.

It starts with getting basic facts wrong because of the intent behind the information which people get.

A few tomorrows later, it’s getting stuck in a particular terminally online way of thinking which isn’t real life, just fantasy.

This because the algorithms behind social media recommend people more of the same thing. Also since people like hearing more of what confirms their overall view of the world.

And messages sound more truthful to people when they’re repeated over time.

An inevitable “good”?

China is attempting to unite all Chinese under its banner, notes Former Permanent Secretary of Foreign Affairs Bilahari Kausikan in his commentary in The Straits Times.

This is under the particular ethnic and nationalist rhetoric that everyone ethnically or racially “Chinese” can best understand their best interests in terms of China’s best interests.

This is simply not aligned with Singapore’s successful track record of equality and progress.

In Singapore, our ancestors come from all over: China’s plains, India’s strand and the Malay isles.

They were invariably in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

Migrating was “not an easy process” in those times. In other words, people migrated because life where they were from (“the old country”) simply wasn’t working out for them.

But life worked out in Singapore, overall. Whether under the British, or together with such nudging from the PAP Government, our ancestors worked hard to make sure it did.

This successful model is still going strong.

Take the recent international Pew Research Center survey, which found that the Covid pandemic brought Singapore together the most out of all the other 18 countries surveyed. Best in the world.

Or how “regardless of race, language or religion” is anticipated as achievable within the next decade.

Indeed, our country is fundamentally built upon the fact that “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law” and that “there shall be no discrimination against citizens of Singapore” on racial grounds.

The University of WhatsApp, however, has for a while had many videos talking about tiny Singapore and that it needs to know its role and shut its mouth when dealing with another big, powerful country. Or else.

These videos polarise. Especially for people who want this sort of manipulation.

A multiracial society

These social media influence operations are meant to destabilise our nation. They build distrust along ethnic lines, and there’ll likely be more after this past weekend.

They deserve calling out for what they are.  

Our national identity and shared values of compassion, inclusivity and diversity took years to build. Just read about former DPM Toh Chin Chye laying the foundations for it. Or listen to Zubir Said.

And if all else fails, there’s the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Bill (FICA) — an important tool designed to prevent foreign powers from interfering with our domestic matters; in other words, to preserve a way of life that is determined exclusively by Singaporeans.  

Our leaders, too, have rightly long stated Singapore’s international position as well. We are neutral. We “cannot be bought, nor can we be bullied”. We are also highly-principled to do the right thing for humanity.

The Government is additionally conducting Forward Singapore to listen to the hopes and anxieties of Singaporeans.

This exercise includes multi-language sessions.

This is for us all to deepen our bonds of trust and chart our country’s future success together.

So, next time one of those videos pops up on social media, the solution’s simple:

Just ask, “Whose house?”

Because Singapore’s not just Ah Tan’s house. It’s also Ahmad’s. And Astha’s and Arianna’s as well.

Where might all these people fit within the “wonderful” new world order which those social media videos promise?

That is a question the University of WhatsApp cannot satisfactorily answer.

Cover photo credit: Adem AY on Unsplash