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Bloggers and the Networked Public Sphere in Singapore

The final speaker in this first session at AoIR 2009 is Carol Soon, who shifts our focus to Singaporean political bloggers. Political blogging and related forms challenge conventional top-down communication flows, of course, and in doing so also undermines established entities' authority in information dissemination. What follows is a diversification of political participation in the networked public sphere - and in the Singaporean context, then, who are the key players here?

The networked public sphere can be seen as an autopoietic system,in which flows of communication and relationships are self-organising, move from the bottom up, freely within clusters and in a self-determined fashion. This challenges systems which traditionally hold more powerful positions - and hyperlink analysis can be utilised to examine the flows of information in this changing environment. Such flows may involve conventional political parties, but also civil society groups (which in Singapore particularly challenges the established system).

Bloggers are emerging political players in this, and have been researched from a number of different perspectives. One approach is to understand the different rolesof bloggers (summarisers vs. agitators, for example). Network flows between these bloggers are connected by dense hyperlinks, which serve as conduits for the dissemination of information and appear to reflect political affinity. Within this networked public, there may be fluid and counter-hegemonic communication flows, with the links that are forged amongst bloggers, and between bloggers and other organisations, constituting bottom-up and autopoietic flows in the networked public sphere.

Singapore is a particularly interesting case as it presents a paradox: a young and successful nation with strong ICT use, but a heavily regulated media environment (including the Internet) - but with regulation which has nonetheless proved unable to prevent the emergence of online sites of resistance. Some such sites are now also spilling over into the offline world, with a group pf bloggers holding a press conference to make their points to the national media.

However, there are few attempts to engage in more holistic research into the Singaporean blogosphere, and Carol's study addresses this: she developed a comprehensive list of Singaporean political sites (political parties, civil society organisations, news media, discussion groups, and blogs). She studied the hyperlinks between these sites to identify the key players in this network; the majority of sites (85%) with a high count of inlinks, indeed, were blog sites ( such as Mr. Brown, Yawning Bread, The Online Citizen). Other than the blogs, two sites belonged to minor political parties (Singapore Democrats, Workers' Party); issue-based groups accounted only for a very small group here.

Overall in this network, there was a low density of connections; however, within the network of bloggers, there are some very dense connections. Amongst political parties, there is a much more impoverished network, and the least linked-to party site is that of the dominant ruling party in Singapore. Discussion fora, advocacy groups, and news media showed very weak clustering patterns. So, political actors in Singapore appear to be diversifying, and there is a networked public sphere emerging here. Bloggers in Singapore are political actors which should not be overlooked, and warrant greater attention; political parties still maintain a presence as well, though, while civil society organisations are notably absent here.

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