Government proposes setting up committee to combat online falsehoods

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The government will ask Parliament to appoint a select committee to examine and report on how Singapore can combat and prevent online falsehoods.

The proposal was set out in a 21-page Green Paper issued by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) on Friday (January 5).

A chairman, seven MPs from the ruling People’s Action Party, one opposition MP and one nominated MP will make up the committee. According to media reports, the committee will be chaired by Deputy Speaker Charles Chong.

The committee can invite members of the public to make submissions and hold public hearings on key issues once it is approved by Parliament.

PHOTO: Ministry of Law

Singapore should not wait for an incident to occur…We should be prepared ahead of time. There needs to be a wide-ranging conversation about our response to these challenges as a country and a society,” said MCI and MinLaw. 

In the paper, they noted the role of technology such as “social bots”, which can create accounts on social media platforms that act like and interact with accounts of real persons to spread spam and online falsehoods.

By sheer volume, they can create a false impression of public support for a particular story or movement, they added.

Citing the US Presidential Election as an example, the paper wrote that 126 million US Facebook users were said to have been exposed to more than 80,000 pieces of content from 470 accounts controlled by a foreign country between June 2015 and August 2017.

Other forms of technology highlighted in the paper included search engines, email chains, direct links to websites and instant messaging.

A report by The Straits Times said it is the first time since 1988 that the government has issued a Green Paper. According to Parliament’s website, a Green Paper is one that is “in the nature of a preliminary discussion or consultative document, usually issued in advance of the formulation of Government policy”. 

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said last year that the “very serious” nature of fake news means that new laws to combat the phenomenon will likely be introduced in 2018.

“In this so-called ‘post-truth’ world, even flimsy and ludicrous misinformation can sow doubt. People may believe fake news because it comes from within their social networks, which are familiar to them and share their worldview,” said Shanmugam, who was speaking at a forum on truth and trust in the media.

Related story:

New laws against fake news to be introduced in 2018: Shanmugam