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powers of persuasion

Singaporeans applaud their government for cracking down on philandering

Singapore is notorious for rigidly managing its citizens’ conduct. But in some cases, they don’t necessarily mind—or even welcome it. Earlier today, the government blocked access to the Singaporean site of Ashley Madison, a Canadian-owned online dating site for married people who want to cheat. (The tagline of the site, which has 20 million users globally, is “Life is Short. Have an Affair.”)

“It is against the public interest to allow Ashley Madison,” said Singapore’s Media Development Authority earlier today, as it “aggressively promotes and facilitates extramarital affairs” in “flagrant disregard of… public morality.”

This is hardly surprising coming from a government that bans gum sales, suicide, walking around your home nude, not flushing the toilet, male homosexuality and using someone else’s Wifi. But in this case, the the Singapore government says the move reflected the will of the people, many of whom expressed outrage about the site. The “Block Ashley Madison-Singapore” Facebook site has garnered 26,778 “likes.” Some 2,000 Singapore residents signed a petition on Change.org calling for the prime minister to block Ashley Madison. The national media joined the fear-mongering as well.

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Block Ashley Madison Facebook site

It’s not clear why the Singaporean public is asking to be nannied. Marriages don’t appear to be under threat; divorces actually fell 4.8% last year (pdf, p.13), compared with 2011, numbering 7,237. The crude divorce rate—the number of divorces per 1,000 people—dropped from 2.0 in 2011 to 1.9 in 2012. That compares with 3.6 in the US (the year that Ashley Madison appeared on the scene, it was 4.0).

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General divorce rate among adults aged 20 and older.​Department of Statistics Singapore

Perhaps Singaporeans have adopted the state’s perspective about the need to procreate. In order to offset its rapid aging, Singapore needs a massive baby boom, which has prompted a slew of bureaucratic measures—things like parental tax incentives and limiting the number of one-bedroom flats—as well as a more recent turn to propaganda. Take, for instance, last year’s campaign urging couples to have sex on National Night:

Or the government’s efforts to turn fairy tales into reproductive guilt trips:

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The Singaporean Fairytale

Considering the response to Ashley Madison, the government may be congratulating itself on being cherished for regulating family values. But then, forcing couples to be faithful won’t necessarily drive them to have more sex.

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