Singapore should not name and shame

Professor Philip N. Howard did not explicitly state that Russia was the only country the Oxford Internet Institute found to be running misinformation campaigns.
Professor Philip N. Howard did not explicitly state that Russia was the only country the Oxford Internet Institute found to be running misinformation campaigns.PHOTO: REUTERS

It was surprising to see an article palpably castigating one of Singapore's valued partners (How to detect the next Russian misinformation campaign, March 29).

For all the noble and tedious work that our Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has put into cultivating good relations with all countries, it was a surprise to see one country singled out for alleged offences that were not even committed against Singapore. It is one thing to inform readers that misinformation campaigns are being conducted to keep us alert, but it is quite another to pin down one specific country as responsible for them.

Professor Philip N. Howard did not explicitly state that Russia was the only country the Oxford Internet Institute found to be running misinformation campaigns. Let us not be so naive as to believe there is only one country brandishing weapons of propaganda and engineering geopolitical misinformation.

While the breadth, scope and impact of misinformation campaigns have exponentially increased with the widespread use of the Internet, state propaganda as a weapon of influence is nothing new.

An examination of history will reveal that electoral interference has been going on around the world for decades, sometimes in the form of an outright regime overthrow.

I am not saying that this makes it right, but merely that it is not in our interest to cull one name from a list of possible offenders and put it on the pike for all to ridicule.

Singapore should not engage in "naming and shaming" as it will not make our nation more secure. On the contrary, it may incite retaliation.

What will be more effective is educating online users on ways to spot misinformation, promote fact-checking and disrupt dissemination of news that threatens our national cohesion or security.

What will be more effective is educating online users on ways to spot misinformation, promote fact-checking and disrupt dissemination of news that threatens our national cohesion or security.

I strongly echo MFA's stance that Singapore should stay adamantly neutral, steadfastly disciplined and unyieldingly principled when it comes to engaging prominent international stakeholders.

Lily Ong (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore should not name and shame'. Print Edition | Subscribe