Our Prime Minister is a huge Facebook user, having held AMAs on his Facebook page, sharing pictures from his evening walks, as well as giving followers a glimpse into his work and thoughts as the leader of this country.
But Facebook, as we all know, can be a source of vulnerability.
As reported by Today, a 33-year-old man named Tan Yeong Hong was convicted for sending PM Lee threatening private messages on Facebook. Using the name “Gary Tan”, he had sent four private messages to PM Lee’s Facebook page saying that he would “stage an attack” on the Prime Minister.
The messages were sent on June 24. After Tan had visited a Meet-The-People Session at Ang Mo Kio with the sole purpose of passing PM Lee an article he had typed out, he was frustrated to learn that the PM wasn’t there. He went on Facebook to send four identical messages, which read: “Eh, You challenged me to visit your (Meet-the-People Sessions) but you are not here. I will find and stage an attack on you when I have information on your public appearances. You know who I am…”
He had admitted to carrying a hammer in his bag that day, though he claimed that he had no intention of using it. He also claimed that he did so because he “was being prompted by someone with a hidden audio and surveillance device planted in my house”. He was later found to have untreated paranoid schizophrenia, which psychiatric reports claimed could have played a large contributory role.
Social Media Threats
While this is the first time the court has heard a case of using the Internet to threaten the Prime Minister, it’s likely to not be the last. One result of the freedom of speech that social media platforms bring is also the likelihood that they are being used as ways to frighten and threaten people, while hiding behind a shroud of anonymity.
The sending of threatening and frightening messages is considered cyberbullying, which plagues one of three students in Singapore. The Protection From Harrassment Act, laid just last year, seeks to protect those who have been harrassed, offline and online. This includes any social media or private messages that have been sent which leads to the receiver feeling unsafe or threatened.
We’re still a long way from cultivating a good online culture where we draw our own boundaries for our behaviour towards others, but perhaps laws like the Protection From Harrassment Act are one of the many ways we can protect ourselves from similar harrassment. While it’s a crime to send threatening messages to the Prime Minister, it’s good to know that it’s also a crime to send them to any other Singaporeans.
So if you’re on the receiving end of similar messages, bring it straight to the police, and if you’re a sender of similar messages, just don’t.