Somewhere from the 1960s to the 80s, the culture of ‘hacking’ subsisted in the dark reaches of the Internet. Hacking was borne out of this idea that the web should be open access and free for everyone to adapt. This idea is entrenched in the American and, more specifically, California-style of how cyberspace should function: there should be freedom of expression and access to information and knowledge. And, it spawned groups of hackers, who tinkered with the system for both betterment and for harm. White Hat hackers helped to address security threats and loopholes, while Black Hat hackers created viruses and malware.
As the Internet became more and more pervasive, countries and communities around the world would adopt this digital eco-system and make it its own. According to American academic, Robin Mansell, the Internet culture is defined as what people do with the technology – how they use it, appropriate it, what their digital/social practices are, and what it means to them.
Here in Singapore, there is much to say about how Internet cultures have evolved. From the blogosphere, to social media and cancel culture. One area that I would like to explore is Singapore’s troll culture, which is linked to the world of STOMP-like vigilantism and, in some cases, the anti-establishment. Some examples include the following websites:
- Sammyboy.com – information on prostitution and local gossip
- Hardwarezone – a popular discussion board
- All Singapore Stuff – sensational news website
- TR Emeritus – anti-establishment website
There are many other websites of a similar nature – many have quickly gotten a following and then died equally fast. Anyway, recently, I discovered a whole new troll eco-system under the group, Awesome Group. These sensational websites, whose presence is mainly on social media, are brands like Mediacock, Awesome Singapore, and Sure Boh Singapore and others (pictured below). These aren’t anti-establishment although they do spare every effort to mock the establishment i.e. the government and government-linked entities. I mean the designs of Awesome Singapore and Sure Boh Singapore are satirical takes on government-linked brands like CNA (Channel NewsAsia) and SBS Transit. And Mediacock is just so obviously lampooning Mediacorp.
I’ve seen the content of some of these websites floating around already. These websites tend to jump on videos that are viral and trending in Singapore social media, and leverage the content by meme-ing it and doing spin-offs, or just outright ripping it off.
One interesting website under Awesome Group to take note of is The Royal Singapore (TRS). TRS is unlike the others in that it publishes positive stories of everyday Singaporeans. In fact, it describes itself as follows:
The Royal Singapore is a platform that celebrates the lives of interesting and inspiring Singaporeans and those who live in and contribute to Singapore.
The social media page is video-heavy and it tends to highlight Singaporeans who overcame tremendous suffering and setbacks, both in their personal life or in their business. Their stories tug on the viewers’ heartstrings.
On a deeper inspection, I found that TRS is run by an infamous couple: Yang Kaiheng and wife Ai Takagi. The pair formerly ran The Real Singapore (TRS again, geddit?) and were convicted and sentenced for sedition because of their fake stories that fan the flames of xenophobia among Singaporeans.
The couple have now done a 180 degree about-turn and are now focused on spreading positivity. Certainly, this is one entrepreneurial pair and I must say that if they were in a country like the US, they would have understood how to tap into local conservative sentiments and made a successful right wing media business, like Breitbart News Network. Breibart is one of the media companies that help put Trump into the White House. Of course, I am in no way condoning what they did. Spreading fake news is not right. But their story is certainly an interesting case study in how to successfully tap into the dark reaches of Singapore Internet culture.
Update: An earlier version of the article erroneously listed some Singapore websites as part of the dark web. It also contained some comments said in jest and not meant to offend. These has been corrected.