Explanation: What is “cancelled culture” and are there laws in S’pore to protect those who are “cancelled”?
SINGAPORE — Following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement during his speech at the National Day rally last Sunday (August 21) that Section 377A will be repealed, several religious groups have expressed concern about being “cancelled ” or discriminated against for expressing their opinions.
They warned that the repeal of this law which criminalizes sexual relations between two men could change the tone of society and create intolerance towards dissenting opinions, especially those who do not support this decision.
In light of these concerns, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam on Monday gave assurances that the government was looking for ways to ensure that no one will be canceled for speaking their minds.
“We should not allow a culture where people of religion are ostracized, attacked, for espousing their opinions or disagreeing with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender views. And vice versa,” Mr Shanmugam said.
With the concept of “cancel culture” gaining more attention, TODAY spoke with experts and lawyers to dig deeper into what cancel culture is, whether there are laws protecting those who are canceled and whether the country should consider having laws in place to stamp it.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE CANCELED?
Cancel culture refers to the phenomenon of people using online tools such as online petitions, hashtags or public social media posts to undermine or damage the reputation or livelihood of individuals and organizations often seen as influential and powerful, said Dr Natalie Pang, a senior lecturer in the Department of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
Dr Pang said the term may have surfaced in the 1990s, but has recently been popularized during viral movements such as #metoo – a social movement that encourages those who have been sexually harassed or of rape to share their experience.
Associate Professor Daniel PS Goh, who teaches sociology at NUS, added that the term originated in the United States of America, where the “culture war between Christian nationalists and liberal progressives is being fought in the public sphere and social media”.
However, in the Singapore context, Dr Pang said canceling usually involves someone being called out on social media.
“The call, however, does not always lead to ‘cancellation’ – while many others may join in by liking, commenting or sharing the post, the actual effects of the call may vary and may not always result in cancellation with the target’s reputation or livelihood affected,” she said.
Dr Pang and Prof Assoc Goh agreed that there doesn’t seem to be a cancel culture here.
Assoc Prof Goh said: “Those who lost their positions and jobs because of public outcry over their social media posts…lost them because they transgressed our society’s zero tolerance for biased speech by terms of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. .
“This is not a cancellation resulting from a culture war; it is the mark of an inclusive society where prejudiced discourse is not tolerated.
Dr Pang added: “(Cancel culture) depends on societal norms and the socio-political culture of society. In more liberal democracies where appeal can be seen as a form of citizenship, we may see greater potential for nullification as there may be greater sustained movement or mass participation for it.
WHAT LAWS EXIST TO PROTECT VICTIMS OF CANCELLATION?
While there is no law protecting people from cancellation per se, lawyers told TODAY that there are other laws to protect people in similar situations.
Attorney Nithya Devi of Kalidass Law Corporation said, “It’s not against the law to say you don’t support someone… But in the process of canceling someone, if threatening, insulting or abusive language has been used, it may amount to harassment.”
Under the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha), which came into effect in 2014, a person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting language or behavior with the intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress to another person can be imprisoned for up to six months or fined up to S$5,000.
A person being voided could also sue under defamation law if the allegations against them are not true.
“But you will have to prove that it was a misrepresentation and that it damaged your reputation and you suffer those losses. If this is not false, it will be difficult for you to fall into the realm of a defamation claim,” Ms Devi added.
In the context of the Section 377A arguments, the principal of the law firm Characterist LLC Adrian Wee pointed out that there are laws that prevent people from making statements that “disparage a race or religion.”
For example, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Law, which was first enacted in 1990, promotes tolerance among various religious groups and guarantees the separation of religion and politics.
Under this law, those who cause ill will between different religious groups can be issued a restraining order.
Mr Wee said a derogatory remark against a particular religion made during discussions on 377A “could potentially be a comment based on race or religion which could be illegal”.
However, regarding the aforementioned laws such as Poha and defamation law, Mr. Wee clarified: “These rules have no specific application for nullified persons and are only rules that govern what you can or can’t tell other people”.
DO WE NEED MORE LAWS TO ELIMINATE THE CANCELLATION CULTURE?
Lawyers and experts here don’t think there should be any specific laws in place to deal with cancel culture.
Mr. Josephus Tan, Managing Director of Invictus Law Corporation, said, “This is simply a trending slogan or contemporary cultural term amplified by the rise of the digital age.
“To take a fair and balanced view, there is an inherent benefit to having a culture of cancellation. It empowers the marginalized to demand accountability. It also gives a voice to people who are in a less powerful or privileged position. .
However, he added that existing laws must stop nullifying when they cross the line of harassment, defamation or doxxing.
Agree, Joel Ng, associate director of the law firm Quahe Woo & Palmer LLC, said there are already laws to protect a person from harassment and defamation.
“It would also be difficult to draft legislation to regulate cancel culture. What kind of behavior would the legislation even seek to prohibit? ” he said.
Mr. Wee of Characterist LLC agreed that the current laws are adequate: “My view is that cancellation is similar to bullying or avoidance. It’s nasty, but it’s not the kind of behavior the law should have to step in to regulate.
Assoc Prof Goh added that “just because a group or individual is criticized or loses in a public debate does not mean that there is cancellation”.
“If you believe in your opinions, then be prepared to defend them. I think our laws are adequate in this regard.
Dr Pang said what needs to work alongside laws are “the social norms associated with interpersonal and public communications”.
“It can involve a range of things. For example, considering the other person and thinking about the consequences for them before posting something and not getting personal in disagreements,” she said.