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Sun, Jun 13, 2010
The Straits Times
JC students branded 'dogs' on Wikipedia

By Alexis Cai & Mavis Toh

DEROGATORY remarks about two Tampines Junior College (TPJC) students in a Wikipedia entry prompted one of them to file a police report.

The remarks, which bordered on racist, were posted on Sunday in an entry about TPJC in the popular online encyclopedia, which attracts billions of page views annually.

Among other things, the two students were called 'dogs'.

When contacted, the junior college said it was unaware of the incident and said it would look into the matter.

TPJC's vice-principal, Mr Tan Eng Poh, said he was shocked by what had happened and would address the students when school reopens on June 28 after the term break.

The incident comes barely four months after three youths were arrested for posting racist remarks on social networking site Facebook.

They were let off with a warning subsequently.

In the latest case, the remarks about the two first-year students - a Singaporean and a South Korean - were inserted under various sections of TPJC's page, including its motto, anthem, list of subjects offered and special programmes.

Nineteen-year-old Srinivas Naidu, one of the two who bore the brunt of the remarks, told The Straits Times yesterday that he had been alerted to the posts by a schoolmate on Sunday and had reported it to the police three days later.

'I cannot tell whether those comments were personal attacks or whether there was a racist agenda,' he said.

He added that he was on good terms with his schoolmates and had no idea who would do such a thing.

'I don't think I have done anything bad. There was no provocation on my part, so it was quite shocking.'

A police spokesman said yesterday that he had been advised of his legal recourse.

The other student, a 19-year-old South Korean who has been studying here for close to eight years, declined to be interviewed.

The remarks on the Wikipedia page have also generated a buzz among TPJC students, many of whom are discussing it on social networking sites such as Twitter.

Yesterday, vice-principal Mr Tan condemned the remarks made on Wikipedia - which have since been taken down by the school's staff - describing them as 'unacceptable'.

He added that the principal had spoken to students about posting online remarks responsibly in February, in the wake of the arrests of the three youths.

'We certainly don't condone such behaviour. Even on our school forum, we make it clear that there should be no religious or racist remarks,' he added.

The incident has also sparked concern among academics and IT experts, who are worried that the Internet could become a 'convenient and powerful medium' that allows hate speech.

Sociologist Yasser Mattar, who specialises in popular culture and communications, said: 'With popular sites like Wikipedia, there is mass outreach and anonymity. It's similar to those who vandalise with graffiti. They won't do it in a small corner of an abandoned building, but somewhere prominent, where everyone can see it.'

He expects more such cases as more people become connected to the Net.

Associate Professor Cherian George of Nanyang Technological University said that those offended should fight bad speech with 'good speech'.

'For example, community leaders and influential individuals in the blogosphere can come out and take a stand, to show that intolerance and offensive speech is not welcome in our society,' he said.

czhimin@sph.com.sg
mavistoh@sph.com.sg

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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