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Transformation in the Age of Misinformation

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Transformation in the Age of Misinformation

In a speech entitled Transformation in the Age of Misinformation, Mr Iswaran outlined the reasoning for a bill under consideration in Singapore’s Parliament to grant government ministers the ability to demand corrections, order the removal of content, or block websites deemed to be propagating falsehoods contrary to the public interest.

“We are not alone in facing this challenge – many countries are studying it closely and developing measures to deal with falsehoods,” Mr Iswaran said in prepared remarks. “Germany has introduced its Network Enforcement Act, which covers a broad range of content including hate speech, and speech based on falsity, such as criminal defamation and forgery. The UK has released a White Paper expressing how harmful online content and behaviour, including the spread of fake news, could be dealt with. This is a new arena for most of us and the effectiveness of these solutions remain to be seen.”

Mr Iswaran noted the example of Sri Lanka, which after coordinated Easter Sunday bombings of churches and hotels, cited the threat of misinformation and temporarily shut down social media.

“The fear that the horrific bombing incidents over Easter could exacerbate underlying tensions between different religious groups in the country compelled the government to shut down access altogether to all major social media networks. In other words, the assessment of risk was too great that they turned to such extreme measures,” he said.

He added that Singapore is particularly vulnerable to misinformation campaigns given its multiracial, multi-religious makeup with a high mobile and internet penetration rate. “We need to protect ourselves but also take a reasonable and balanced approach in dealing with the issue,” he said.

But in the fight against misinformation spread with malicious intent, Mr Iswaran said everyone has an important role to play – the government, the news industry, and the community.

“Legislation complements – and does not replace – our suite of tools to deal with deliberate online falsehoods,” Iswaran said. “A well-informed and discerning public is our first, and most important line of defence. In fact, a large part of our efforts are devoted to public education efforts to strengthen information and media literacy.”

Ongoing public education efforts by the Singapore government include: 

-- the National Library Board’s Source. Understand. Research. Evaluate. (SURE), a program to help citizens become more aware of the dangers as well as to help them discern the information they consume. 

-- a National Framework on Information and Media Literacy, which will help to align public education efforts.

-- a government fact-checking website, Factually, which provides the public with accurate information on government policies or issues that are of interest to the public.

In terms of the publishing industry, Mr Iswaran cited publications such as The Guardian for engaging a growing audience with a distinctive voice, the use of credible sources, and quality content. 

“Publishers such as The Guardian, which prides itself on its independent journalism, are attracting more eyeballs from consumers who are keen to feed on in-depth and thoroughly researched pieces that ensure that the facts have been presented accurately,” he said.

“I cannot over-emphasise the importance of credible, accurate news sources, especially when we are dealing with a plethora of options through the Internet, which can generate much noise, much heat, but often very little light,” he said.

He also credited companies such as Google and Singapore Press Holdings for promoting media literacy and other efforts to raise public awareness of falsehoods and unverified information.

The community’s role in the fight against fake news includes ground-up initiatives aimed at strengthening digital literacy among various segments, including youths and seniors. 

Examples include:

--  The Media Literacy Council in Singapore launched several new fact-checking resource toolkits at its annual Better Internet Conference. The “Get Smart with Sherlock” fact-checking starter kit provides the public with information to understand the issue of online falsehoods and advice to stem the spread. Based on the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, this toolkit features his attempts to solve the crime of fake news, while guiding his audience on doing so, through accessible language. MLC has also partnered with Common Sense Education to develop a toolkit targeted at teachers and students, comprising a series of lesson plans and worksheets that not only teaches students to evaluate the credibility of news resources, but also equips them with strategies to distinguish facts from opinions.

-- A Digital Readiness track has been established under the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth’s Our Singapore Fund, one of several initiatives to promote computational thinking among young children and encourage the use of technology to improve people’s daily lives. 

“To our publishing and media partners who are situated here in Singapore, we welcome your presence and look forward to continue working closely with you to tap on the opportunities that are available here and in the region,” Iswaran said. “Technology adoption rates are perhaps among the highest in our part of the world, and I think the work that we do and the deliberations at this conference will have an important impact in how we are able to participate in and shape the evolution of these trends.”

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About the author: Tom Benner is a freelance writer and editor based in Singapore.

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Kimberly Lim's picture

Kimberly Lim

Date

2019-05-13 03:30

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