Be aware of various forms of online falsehoods

Another possible online falsehood comes in the form of consumer reviews.
Another possible online falsehood comes in the form of consumer reviews. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Over time, online falsehoods have taken on prolific forms due to the creativity of actors who range from the malicious to the mercenary.

Beyond the malicious political actors who spread hate messages designed to divide our society and dilute trust in our public institutions, there are commercial actors who craftily package misleading information for the sake of business profits, and they, too, should be called out.

Take, for example, certain websites that rank family lawyers not by merit but by the amount of monetary contribution they make to the website owner.

I believe in this case, there has to be a prominent notice on the website to inform visitors that these are paid rankings - akin to paid advertisements.

Until then, these ranking sites will continue to mislead people into thinking they're paying top dollar for the cream of the crop in one particular industry.

I hope the digital advertising transparency clause under the new Codes of Practice for technology companies will bring such websites under its oversight.

Another possible online falsehood comes in the form of consumer reviews.

Just how authentic are they and can the website owners do more to ensure that businesses are not submitting self-complimenting reviews?

Beyond the malicious political actors who spread hate messages designed to divide our society and dilute trust in our public institutions, there are commercial actors who craftily package misleading information for the sake of business profits, and they, too, should be called out.

The act of misleading the public by puffing up the amount and content of one's own good reviews is no doubt a deliberate one and happens far more often than we think.

Further, in order to make this whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach work, the public must be well educated on spotting fake news.

Following the example above, a law firm claiming to have one of the largest legal teams in Singapore, yet has no more than a sprinkle of lawyers, should raise a red flag.

Such blatantly false statements should constitute deceptive advertising for which injunctions can be sought against.

Every Singaporean should take on the responsibility of safeguarding the country and society against the threat of deliberate fake news.

Such collective efforts will surpass the installation of any government body to trawl the Internet for fake news (Law Minister spells out how law on fake news will work, May 4).

By giving each public member a role to play in this grand strategy, the Government is also encouraging an engaged citizenry that will be vital in the development of community resilience.

Lily Ong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2019, with the headline 'Be aware of various forms of online falsehoods'. Print Edition | Subscribe