Recently, IRAS released a press release stating that social media users (SMUs) must declare media gifts, and gifts are taxable. These are some reasons why this rule is discriminatory, curtailing both personal freedom and businesses’ marketing:
1. Many people receive gifts, not only SMUs. Celebrities, radio djs, and journalists all receive mountains of presents in hopes that they will recommend the products. Why are SMUs the only ones who are taxed?
In other words, the rule is arbitrary; it is aimed at a group of people, and not others. IRA is putting a group of people above another group. When that happens to racial minorities, we call it racism. When it happens to women, we call it sexism. When it happens to GLBTQ, we call it homophobia. When it happened during World War II, Hitler killed 6 million Jews. In general, we call this situation discrimination and prejudice.
2. What if a SMU is based overseas, but uses social media to talk about Singapore and receives gifts from Singapore? How will he or she be taxed? The cyberspace is a global space; a SMU can post online anywhere in the world. By taxing a SMU in Singapore and not a SMU based overseas when they are posting on the same product is unjust and unfair. In a democracy, everyone should be treated equally.
3. Are you on facebook or instagram? Then this new rule applies to you. IRAS’s press release states that “social media influencers” can be taxed. By making the term so vague, every SMU is an influencer on social media; what you post online affects and influences other people.
The vague definition of a “social media influencer” means that anyone on social media, including facebook or instagram, are subjected to the rule at any time. When you forward a post on facebook, or regram a photo on instagram, and you win a prize, you are liable to be taxed.
Althusser calls this policing of the State “Repressive State Apparatus,” which simply means that the State controls and oppresses the public by repression and fear. Vibrant societies don’t thrive in fear. Look at London, New York, and Hong Kong. They possess immense energy because of freedom from fear. This oppression from fear is not democratic.
4. The cyberspace is meant to be an anonymous, free space, allowing freedom of expression. While there should be some form of control—such as laws against sexist, racist, homophobic diatribes, causing verbal harm to people or country—the new IRAS’s rule means they can track any SMU. In other words, the State is attempting to control the Internet.
Over the years, the Singapore government has been tightening its grip on Internet. At first, they nabbed SMUs when they committed a crime, such as the people who abused Malays on a pet forum, or the people behind The Real Singapore who fabricated seditious articles. Most Singaporeans approve this moderate move, and agree that some form of control is necessary.
Then, Singapore began to impose a $50,000 bond on political websites. This is unacceptable, curtailing the freedom of speech. There are already laws such as sedition and libel to prevent websites from sprouting nonsense. Why impose a 50k bond when many websites have no money to pay? People protested online against the law but to no avail.
This new IRAS measure is another way Singapore is expanding its control of the Internet. Since this rule affects everyone, ie the new rule gives government the right to track you down when theoretically you should be anonymous, the freedom of the internet for Singaporean gets lesser and narrower, and one day, we will all be watched by the Big Brother. We lose our freedom of speech on the Internet, a platform for common people like us to voice out our concerns, and it’s not acceptable in a democratic society.
5. Unless we’re talking about bribery (astronomical sums of money, like Najib’s millions), gifts between private enterprises and private individuals are private matters; it is none of the State’s business. Most gifts and prizes are below $100, and when you receive it, you’re not expected to repay the companies; receiving gifts and prizes is unlike bribery because in bribery you have to do something in return. For gifts, you don’t have to do anything.
But suppose you won a prize online, and you decide to post a photo of the prize online, it is out of your own volition. You may be taxed for gifts and prizes, but what about the hours and effort you take to take photos and write about the product? Who is going to pay for your work? It’s not worth getting tax, spending hours writing on products, and not getting paid a single cent. How do you tax $0 payment? It’s $0, right?
6. But suppose IRAS carries out the rule to tax SMUs, this is what will happen:
a. Companies now must pay SMUs, which means companies spend a lot more money on marketing their products;
b. Companies stop giving products to SMUs, which leads to fewer outlets that they can promote their products. The companies will suffer;
c. SMUs stop accepting products, leading to a dearth of online reviews, and consumers cannot compare reviews between products;
d. SMUs continue accepting products, but do not declare on social media that the products are presents, leading to dishonesty, harming both the SMU’s sense of integrity, and the trust of the readers.
In general, when IRAS tax SMUs for gifts, the situation will lead to a torpor in both the cyberspace and businesses, limiting communication in our society. With limited information, both the economy and democracy suffer. This new rule affects everyone on social media.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.
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