He denies that it's an effect of his jail time or decline in popularity in Singapore, but Amos Yee is a changed teen - or so it seems.
That is if a recent interview he had with The News Lens International, a Taiwan-based agency, is anything to go by.
The 18-year-old spent 55 days in jail last year, and another three weeks a couple of months ago, with an additional two weeks in home detention, for actions that include insulting Christians and Muslims, apart from his uploading of a distasteful graphic of the late Lee Kuan Yew and Margaret Thatcher to his blog.
His wanton use of vulgarities and brazen disregard for religious sensitivities has failed to amuse most Singaporeans, including his supporters, who have since distanced themselves from him.
Despite this, he believes he has made an impact in getting the world to realise that "Singapore is a horrible country", and that there is "a huge discussion about free speech", even if Singaporeans might not have changed their minds about it yet.
He thinks Singaporeans are tougher to convince because they are "actually indoctrinated, whereas people in the West are not".
So what changed (apart from his hairstyle)?
In short, feminism and a change in ideology (not a haircut), claims Yee.
He said that his expletive-laden videos were "bringing activism a few steps back", and that it was turning people off. So he declared to The News Lens that he would "change (his) style significantly".
“I listened to what feminists had to say online, which I never did before, and then I agreed with it. I agreed that online harassment was a huge issue, which I would have never thought before, because before that I was a huge inciter of online harassment to others, which is really bad.”
Yee explains that his position now is: if a social media user is found to be inciting harassment and gets taken down, that isn't clamping down of free speech. That's what should be done.
Along that line, he also believes it would have been reasonable for YouTube to take down many of his videos, which he has now largely retrospectively privatised.
“I could even go as far as to say that my kind of video that humps the Quran, and was overly rude to religious people. I’d probably want my videos and maybe even my account to be taken down too. It is just not a good way to communicate information to people.”
Previous interviews were "garbage"
What of his defiant stances taken to the Hong Kong Free Press earlier this year, for instance? Yee now calls interviews like that "garbage", adding that that was from a time when he was "just enjoying life", without knowing much about the state of the world.
He believes that he has now transitioned from "entertainer" to "a full-fledged activist", which he says includes being less brazenly rude, insulting and vulgar — but this toning down is not in order to avoid prison.
"At around the same time as going to jail, I thought I should change my approach," he said.
He adds that he aims to avoid giving the police a reason to send him back to jail.
High hopes for his activism
Yee now wants to grow his audience and make his message clearer. He calls himself "a public figure" with influence and wants to convince people to believe in his opinions.
Guess we'll have to wait and see how everything will turn out.
Top photo: File screenshot from YouTube video
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