Counter fake news by sharing facts: Vivian

The best antidote against fake news is to put out facts - and in Singapore's case, this includes water level information collected by drain sensors - Minister- in-charge of Singapore's Smart Nation initiative Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

He was delivering the closing address at a conference on smart cities and innovation at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, and touched on how governments can build trust by actively sharing data. Such open data sharing underpins the process of collective problem- solving in a smart nation.

The event was organised by French newspaper Le Monde in partnership with The Straits Times and Business France.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Minister, cited an incident when he was environment and water resources minister that led to a decision to make the hundreds of sensors installed in drains "tweet" water level information in cyberspace.

Recounting an episode when there were flooding problems, he said: "The headline on social media was: 'The road has become a river'. Yes, for 15 minutes. But no one ever put out (a note) that it has been fixed."

The decision to make sensors send out tweets to provide updates on flooding was a conscious effort to counter false news with facts.

"We are systematically moving to an open source, open data society. That is the antidote for cynicism, and antidote against fake news," he said.

Public-sector data put in the open domain can also be incorporated in apps and gadgets to solve day-to-day problems. For instance, car navigation system maker Garmin has incorporated the locations of some 300 traffic enforcement cameras here in its devices to alert motorists to observe traffic rules when they are nearing one such camera.

Singapore's Government also puts out information about air quality, traffic jams and litter problems, for instance. Such openness, he said, is aimed at changing the "tone" of Singapore society - from one that is suspicious and critical to one that solves problems collectively.

"Something as trivial as a drain can enter Twittersphere and can make a difference and change the tone of society," he said. "We have a demanding, sophisticated electorate who is pushing the Government to do more."

Ms Sylvie Kauffmann, chief editor of Le Monde, asked about privacy concerns with such sharing.

Dr Balakrishnan said that privacy and security are key to building a smart city, and this is also why the Government decided to delink the computers of 143,000 public servants from the Internet.

"People scolded us and said we were living in the dinosaur age. Then, the WannaCry malware came and, fortunately, we were not hit in a big way. Today, the criticisms have died down."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2017, with the headline 'Counter fake news by sharing facts: Vivian'. Print Edition | Subscribe