EVEN as Singaporeans celebrated National Day last Monday, a Wikipedia entry on the country's flag was defaced with pornography and rude remarks.
The vandalism on the online encyclopaedia drew the ire of netizens on forums such as the popular HardwareZone and VR-Zone.
Last Monday morning, the entry - an overview of the flag of Singapore - had a prominent picture of the state flag replaced - at least twice - with an image of a man in the act of self-gratification. In both instances, the lewd images were removed by Wikipedia editors within seconds and minutes.
The website allows anyone to edit content on its site.
Going by the Internet Protocol address recorded in Wikipedia's history logs, the vandal who committed the act appeared to be in Germany.
Several hours earlier, another vandal - seemingly in Australia - had replaced text in the flag's entry with rude comments relating to a fat person defecating.
These remarks were also quickly removed.
Lawyer Bryan Tan, director of Keystone Law Corporation, said that the Wikipedia vandals could have contravened the Singapore Arms and Flag and National Anthem Act, an offence which is punishable with a fine of up to $1,000.
He said that the authorities could ask for the offensive material to be blocked or try to prosecute the culprits. "But our laws have limited extraterritorial reach and we would have to wait until the offenders are in Singapore before action can be taken," said Mr Tan.
Still, he said there could be laws overseas - where the offenders are - that prohibit the denigration of state symbols. The authorities here could rely on law enforcement treaties with their overseas counterparts to have the Wikipedia vandals prosecuted there.
Mr Kenneth Kua, a Wikipedia editor here, said the Singapore-flag entry was selected to be displayed on the main webpage of the online encyclopaedia last Monday, as it was one of the best articles on the site.
"This means that the article was exposed to significantly more visitors - about 50,000 in 24 hours - so the risk of vandalism increases," said Mr Kua.
But he said that Wikipedia editors who logged on to the site can monitor real-time edits made to site content and take action in seconds, where necessary.
Articles can also be locked temporarily, to prevent editing during a vandalism attack, he said. Common types of vandalism can be prevented with automated filters on Wikipedia.
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