Earlier this year, a teenage blogger/YouTuber, Amos Yee (aka pain in the ass), was sentenced to four weeks jail for posting what some Christians deem to be offensive. Recently, a certain Calvin Cheng wrote something about killing children (of ISIS uslimembers) and got away with nothing but a minor slap on the wrist. No police arrest, no trial. Merely being “counselled” by the chairman of the Media Literacy Council (which Calvin Cheng is a member of) that his remarks are insensitive and inappropriate.
I am sure many of you aspiring internet trolls would love to know how Calvin Cheng said what he did and got away with it. Indeed. What Calvin Cheng did is nothing short of a masterclass to all Internet trolls who wish to post hate speech online and get away with it.
So how did he do it? Here are the key tactics he used:
Tactic 1: Split things up
Everyone of us has a threshold of bullshit. If whatever is written doesn’t cross that threshold, it won’t get us all batshit crazy. We may be irritated. We may be very offended. But if that threshold isn’t crossed, we won’t get off our butts to make a police report. At most, we may write some comments about how hypocritical the MLC and Calvin Cheng are. Some people may go a little further to write to the chairman of MLC. But if that threshold isn’t crossed, no one will go to the trouble of making an actual police report.
Calvin Cheng knows this. And that’s why he split up his comments. He started off by saying this:
He made this comment in a discussion thread about how to deal with ISIS. This, while offensive, still falls below the threshold of bullshit. So most of us still aren’t offended enough to make police reports. A few comments later, Calvin then went on to say:
It is clear from this that Calvin is advocating replicating the practice of Imperial China, where the entire tribe related to an enemy of the Emperor is executed. In other words, one can interpret Calvin Cheng’s statement as he is advocating killing whole tribes. In other words, he is essentially advocating genocide. But because Calvin has split his comments in two, with many other comments in between, most people won’t draw that connection. And so the extremely offensive suggestion of genocide is made less offensive, and falls under our threshold of bullshit. And so no police report. Smart eh!
Tactic 2: Be indirect
Another way to be offensive yet not cross the threshold of bullshit that most people can take is to be indirect. Calvin Cheng demonstrates this masterfully in the second comment about killing entire families. In that comment, Calvin didn’t directly say we ought to kill families and tribes related to ISIS terrorists (who can be considered Muslims). Instead, he very subtly and cunningly said that that is what the Chinese President Xi Jinping has done and what was done in ancient China. He then leaves it at that. But it is clear from his comment that he believes that that is what should be done to solve the ISIS problem. Like a final solution. Very Nazi.
Yet, because he carefully indirect and subtle, he has managed to keep the level of being offensive below the threshold of bullshit that most people can take. Use this together with Tactic 1 for maximum effect.
Being indirect also allows you to call people idiots without crossing the threshold too. Calvin Cheng demonstrates it here:
See how Calvin doesn’t directly say: “You are an idiot!” but says, “I don’t love calling people idiot. Only people like you generally.” How clever of him! So he did call the person an idiot, but because he did so indirectly, it still pisses people off, yet doesn’t cross the threshold of bullshit we can take. This is done so masterfully that even the MLC doesn’t consider that a breach of their core values of empathy, respect and inspiring others positively.
Tactic 3: Blame people for misunderstanding you
Using Tactic 1 and Tactic 2 doesn’t guarantee that no one will be offended by your hate speech. Then again, I’m pretty sure the whole point of you writing hate speech is to piss people off. So you know that some people with more delicate sensibilities will hit back. They will write comments, they will email your staff, they will write to the chairman of MLC. If you are worried that their comments and complaints may land you in trouble (uh-oh… did you cross the threshold of bullshit already?), that is when you use Tactic 3. You accuse those people of being too stupid to understand what you really meant.
That is exactly what Calvin did. He wrote a blog post (which I am not going to dignify by linking), where he explained that his style is to lead off with a “seemingly provocative and outrageous statement, that on cooler analysis, actually represents a deeper argument that is founded on logic, if sometimes uncomfortable logic.” He then goes on to throw in cheem cheem (for non-Singaporean readers, that means “deep deep”, i.e. difficult to understand) philosophical terms like “moral absolutism”. He also uses a thought experiment of whether one should blow up one fat man if it helps save 50 other people (if you are bit overweight, I really suggest you stay far far away from Calvin Cheng. You don’t know what he may do to you, eh?).
He then goes on to say something equivalent to “If you still don’t agree with me, then it just proves you are stupid”. And because he has used all these deep and profound philosophical terms and concepts, it must mean that Calvin Cheng is really smart. It helps if you have a Masters in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford. So we are awed by his “intelligence”.
And of course no one wants to be thought of as stupid. So many people would feel compelled to agree with him. Just like how people will say that the emperor’s (non-existent) new clothes are there and looks really great. Never mind that what he’s said is nothing but a smoke screen to distract people from the fact that his original comments that advocated for pre-emptive genocide of whole tribes of people.
Tactic 4: Have friends in high places
Calvin Cheng is a member of the MLC. Presumably he is quite chummy with the chairman. Some say that Calvin is also immune to censure because he spent much time and effort cultivating many other friends in high places. He wrote so many pieces supporting the PAP during the GE. He launched many vitriolic attacks against the opposition. He went as far as calling people who actually aren’t a members of the opposition but are slightly critical of the establishment (e.g. Kirsten Han and the editors of The Online Citizen) as treacherous traitors. One would definitely get the impression that he is a
lapdog ardent, loyal, diehard supporter of PAP.
It seems that his efforts have paid off. If it were other people throwing such unsubstantiated accusations at members of the establishment (e.g. PAP politicians), I’m sure we would witness a series of defamation suits. But Calvin managed to get away with nothing more than being “counselled”. No further actions taken against him.
In fact, now Calvin can go around righteously claiming that he has official endorsement from the chairman of the MLC that what he posted isn’t hate speech. Now he can go from being the troll to playing the victim – “boohoo… I tried to get people to debate issues critically and logically… but people are so stupid and sensitive. Now I can’t get people to discuss these issues and publicly proclaim that I am right and I am a genius!”
So aspiring internet trolls. Learn from Calvin Cheng. Split things up. Be cleverly indirect. Blame people for misunderstanding you. Most importantly, cultivate friends in high places. Then you can be the ultimate internet troll, post hate speech and get away with it!
[P.S.: I bear no responsibility if you do any of these and still get into trouble with the law posting hate speech. In any case, I am strongly against any forms of hate speech. For Muslims who have to put up with Internet trolls and their hate speech, I apologise on their behalf. I strongly advocate that while we want to fight the ISIS scourge, we should not lose our humanity in the process.]
(Featured Image: From Calvin Cheng’s blog)