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Negative Remarks Are Detestable the Internet Witch Hunt Should End

icon2009/03/23
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Negative Remarks Are Detestable the Internet Witch Hunt Should End
 
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
March 18, 2009
 
A SUMMARY
 
Taiwan is a diverse society, which can lead to intellectual brainstorms, but it can also lead to social friction or even social confrontation. Whether such a society is benign or malignant depends upon our commitment to mutual respect and social harmony. Over the past few days some of the media have milked the "Fan Lan Qing Incident" for all it is worth. The incident raises at least three issues. One is the deliberate incitement of "communal" antagonisms. Another is freedom of speech. Yet another is appropriate behavior for public servants. If these issues are conflated, right and wrong will be confused. These issues must be clarified, one at a time.
 
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See full text of the editorial below
 
Taiwan is a diverse society, which can lead to intellectual brainstorms, but it can also lead to social friction or even social confrontation. Whether such a society is benign or malignant depends upon our commitment to mutual respect and social harmony.
 
Over the past few days some of the media have milked the "Fan Lan Qing Incident" for all it is worth. The incident raises at least three issues. One is the deliberate incitement of "communal" antagonisms. Another is freedom of speech in the Internet. Yet another is appropriate behavior for public servants. If these issues are conflated, right and wrong will be confused. These issues must be clarified, one at a time.
 
First of all, Kuo Kuan-ying used his real name when he published the article in the newspapers. He related his childhood experiences eating oyster omelets at the Yuan Huan. In a self-deprecating manner he said "Here we were, high-class Mainlanders, not knowing how a local Taiwanese uncle wound up bringing us to Taipei ..." The phrase "high-class Mainlanders " was promptly taken out of context and played up by the Green Camp for all it was worth. It was cited as damning evidence of Mainlanders’ prejudice against locals. Kuo Kuan-ying returned to Taiwan and apologized for the article and for the troubles it caused the Junior Chamber of Commerce. He maintained that he was using the term in a spirit of self-mockery, without malice, without any intention of demeaning locals.
Frankly, if one reads the entire article, one will find that aside from this bit of self-mockery, the article contains nothing that expresses contempt for Taiwan. That said, language such as "high-class Mainlanders" also reflects the sense of superiority some Mainlanders feel toward locals. Such tangible and intangible forms of prejudice have hurt the feelings of locals and done considerable harm to their self-esteem. Resentment over this has yet to dissipate. Some Mainlanders do lack self-awareness, sensitivity, and self-restraint.
 
The "Fan Lan Qing" blog articles were much blunter. Its stance on reunification vs. independence was much more direct. The name was clearly a pseudonym for "Pro Pan-Blue." Its pro-Blue position and even pro-Mainland position is not surprising. But is it consistent with the principle of proportionality to leave no stone-unturned tracking down the identity of an anonymous blogger, as if one were investigating Internet crime? Whether such efforts might impact freedom of speech on the Internet is also a concern.
 
The most valuable aspect of the Internet, but perhaps also its most troubling, is that one may hide behind a pseudonym and express oneself without inhibition. On Internet fora and blogs, too many people, having concealed their true identity, say and do things they would never say or do in their daily environment. They give free rein to radical positions and venomous criticism. They engage in irresponsible agitation and express unrestrained lust. Once they turn off their computers, however, they return to polite normality.
 
Some of what appears on the Internet may be hard to stomach. It may make one wonder why human nature is so dark, so barbaric. But to breach layer after layer of Internet privacy over a politically controversial article, as if one were tracking down a violent criminal, in order to put the offender on trial, to be stoned by the mob, is even more chilling. After all, the individual hasn't violated any laws. He never agreed to reveal his identity. Who has the right to conduct such an Internet witch-hunt?
 
After all, the anonymous Internet article was just that, anonymous. That means the author did not lend weight to the article by identifying himself. That means the author wanted to enjoy the increased latitude anonymity granted him. We don't even know for certain whether the article was written by a civil servant serving overseas. Yet some people would destroy the anonymity the Internet has provided over such an article. Is this not a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? There is no legal need to investigate. Kuo Kuan-ying says he did not write the anonymous article. True or false, there is no need to continue digging. He is not the issue. The issue is that we must safeguard freedom of expression on the Internet.
 
Civil servants who are paid out of the national treasury must of course behave with propriety. If they disagree with the nation's policies, they can quit. This is the way to be true to one's own beliefs. It is also the way to show respect for the nation's institutions.
 
To incite ethnic antagonism, to promote racial and gender prejudice and discrimination, by words or by deeds, is considered taboo in advanced nations in Europe and in the United States. It is not merely politically incorrect, but it is immoral and unethical. Racial and gender prejudice and discrimination are difficult to eliminate. One must know right from wrong. One must not overstep the bounds of free expression. One must understand that everyone has the same rights. Only then can one ensure social harmony.
 
By contrast, much of the political language on Taiwan is not merely cruel, but reveals the moral vacuum that underlies our society. For example, a certain Kuomintang legislator alleged that Chen Chu suffered a stroke because she demolished a bronze statue of Chiang Kai-shek. Such remarks raise one's hackles. He refuses to admit he made a mistake, and the KMT appears loath to intervene. People cannot help but wonder whether politicians are intrinsically immoral, or whether intrinsically immoral people choose to become politicians.
 
Freedom of speech is precious. It must be defended. Right and wrong and social harmony is also precious. They too must be defended. Freedom of speech must not become an excuse for inhumane behavior. Not should freedom of speech be abridged for partisan political reasons.
 
 
 
(Courtesy of China Times)

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