Discussions on the Future of Digital

Young Professionals

19 Apr 2018

In April 2018, as the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods concluded its public hearings, we ran a Conversation on the impact of online falsehoods to Singapore society. The session, “Believe It Or Not – Fake News, Real Consequences”, brought together a member of the Select Committee, MP Rahayu Mahzam; a participant of the Select Committee Public Hearings, Mr Alvin Tan, Head of Public Policy for Facebook in Southeast Asia; Mr Mervin Ong, a representative from the National Library Board; and a local religious teacher, Ustaz Mizi Wahid from the Asatizah Youth Network (AYN). This conversation was also graced by Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Communications and Information.

We talked about the complexities of defining online falsehoods and determining the arbiters of truth for statements made in the public domain. While the question was left open-ended, the panellists did agree that there are real consequences to individuals and societies, from small communities to entire nations, when falsehoods are spread on social media. Various examples were given to highlight the seriousness of these issues and the need to combat this phenomenon of ‘fake news’, a term now ubiquitous not just in social media but in everyday life.

Mdm Rahayu Mahzam

MP of Jurong GRC

Mr Melvin Ang

Education and Outreach, National Library Boad (NLB)

Ustaz Mizi Wahid

CEO, Safinah Institute

Mr Alvin Tan

Head of Pubic Policy, Southeast Asia, Facebook

MP Rahayu emphasised the need for better public education to educate the community on the issues of media literacy and online falsehoods. Communities need to be educated in critical thinking and be well-informed (such as to be able to discern truths from falsehoods).

Mervin elaborated on this concern by sharing that NLB ran the Source, Understand, Research and Evaluate (S.U.R.E) campaign to promote the importance of information searching and discernment. S.U.R.E aims to build skills such as information literacy and to highlight the need to be discerning when receiving information online.

Ustaz Mizi centred his discussion on the danger of religious disinformation, which can lead to understandings and practices of a misguided version of the faith, which could be detrimental to multi-religious harmony. He cautioned on the need to verify religious content online, seeing as religious websites and preachers have proliferated online without any form of mediation or institutional authorisation. This has led to the spread of ideas that, beyond being incorrect interpretations, may cause serious rifts for society as a whole.

Alvin also shared some initiatives of social media companies, such as Facebook, that are attempting to combat the spread of false news on their platforms.

Overall, the conversation highlighted the challenges of online falsehood and discussed ways how as a society we can mitigate this threat in ensuring our social cohesion.

For this conversation session, the MENDAKI Club partnered with the National Library Board (NLB).