Behold Singapore’s ‘Onternaut’ Netizens

Singapore’s young netizens have been called ‘Onternauts’ by Tan Tarn How, a senior research fellow of the Institute of Policy Studies. Onternaut comes from a combination of the words “online”, “alternative” and “astronauts”.

The researcher used the word to describe a segment of the youth population who are actively using the Internet to monitor news, share information, and engage in politics. According to the survey which the researcher’s team conducted, the Onternauts comprise about 12.6 percent of the young population.

The purpose of the survey is to determine the role of the internet in Singapore media and politics:

Little is also known about the use of the Internet for political purposes. Among the questions that need to be answered are: How much do people use the Internet and traditional media for political information, and what is their trust of and assessment of the importance of different media as a source of political information?

What are some of the qualities of the Onternauts?

They are politically more knowledgeable, interested and liberal. They also tend to be more politically engaged online and off- line, be it posting a comment on a blog or speaking to politicians.

…The study also found that 30 per cent of Singaporeans are political cynics, defined by their distrust of politicians.

…These cynics are more likely to use online alternative media and foreign websites. They also prefer to use interpersonal channels like face-to-face meetings to discuss politics, the survey found.

From the blog of Yawning Bread

But blogger Everything Also Complain is not happy over the Onternaut term:

‘Onternaut’ is a hastily assembled portmanteau that sounds to me more like a dinosaur Decepticon from Transformers than someone politically active in social media. We used to call people who trawl the web for information ‘surfers’, people with personal websites ‘web hosts’, later converted to ‘bloggers’ and subsequently ‘netizens’, implying a community of people with common ideologies who simply spend more time online chatting and posting information rather than sit around discussing politics. Apparently you don’t ‘surf’ online anymore, either you float around helplessly in a vacuum like astronauts do, or embark on a flight plan around ‘cyberspace’ in a metaphorical rocket ship. As a ‘blogger’ myself, I don’t find anything ‘naut-y’ about what I do online.

Today, getting online and navigating it is as mundane as the air you breathe and there’s nothing about the experience that resembles the soaring, desolate majesty of conquering the final frontier.

Yawning Bread reminds the public, especially politicians, not to blame alternative websites for the political activities of the youth:

They are exposed to mainstream media as much as they are exposed to alternative websites, and yet their political traits are distinct. That being the case, one cannot say that alternative media changed them. It might be more correct to say they were different first, and then found a way to voice their different outlook through the internet.

For anyone, including the People’s Action Party (author’s note: Singapore’s ruling party), to accuse alternative socio-political websites of “radicalising” Singaporeans, is to misunderstand the dynamics.

Anonymous says he read alternative websites because of the strong bias of mainstream media:

I belong to the 12.6%. I find myself being forced to read alternative socio-political websites as I find the mainstream media too biased in reporting local politics.

Ravi Philemon thinks the survey proves that those who read alternative websites also consume news from mainstream sources:

This comment by Mr Tan actually debunks the widespread belief especially among those from the establishment, that the internet has been the instrument of ‘self-radicalisation’. The fear being those that get their news from the alternative websites, will not get to see the views as expressed in mainstream sources.

The survey actually proves that those who consume news from the alternative websites, also consume the mainstream ones. And so in that sense, there is little to worry that Singaporeans who consume news from alternative sources are ‘ghettoising’ themselves.

Thumbnail used is from the Flickr page of WhyOhGee used under CC License Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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