The Straits Times says

Denying hackers the capacity to disrupt

The nefarious hacking attack on French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron's campaign boded ill for democracy. It threatened to be a repeat of the hacking attack on American presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, just before the polls last year, that destroyed her political chances. The suspected provenance of both attacks lies in Russia, an allegation which it denies. In the case of France, the obvious motive for the attack was to install in power National Front candidate Marine Le Pen. Her hatred of the European Union and love for Russia would have made such an outcome an ideal one for Moscow.

Fortunately, the hacking did not achieve its objectives in France. By and large, voters ignored the unwanted intervention. They were aided by the established media's respect for rules on election reporting - conduct rare among right-wing tabloids which create and thrive on a culture of frenzy that can have lasting political consequences. The French were unwilling to be taken for a ride by peddlers of this information which appeared dubious because of the suspicious nature of the timing of its release. That is an example of the form of questioning one would expect among voters in general. If they accept uncritically all that is uttered, the democratic process could become farcical. Hacking will become an instrument of choice for those seeking to influence electoral outcomes, and political players might covertly create false information for others to "leak". Unsure of what was factual and what could have been planted, the French sensibly decided to give a wide berth to the whole package of leaks that had arrived at a critical point of the election. The nation benefited from their scepticism.

The best protection against so-called fake news is visceral vigilance, especially when dealing with information circulated in cyberspace, the most unguarded of all frontiers. The appearance of fake information and propaganda in France, America and Britain holds lessons for other countries. There is no reason to believe that Singapore will be immune to the devious use of technology to push social and political agendas and to influence the choice of voters.

Awash in information which streams endlessly from diverse platforms, the electorate must, to an extent, be their own editors by posing basic questions to themselves. Is the source credible and what motives could lie behind the claims made? Can the information be verified and are there sufficient independent opinions to view an issue from different perspectives?

Conspiracy theories circulate because some believe the truth is being stifled. Ironically, such theories also abound when the so-called truth is leaked. Swamped with facts and "alternative facts", voters have little choice but to hone their judgment so that they can form one reliably.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2017, with the headline 'Denying hackers the capacity to disrupt'. Print Edition | Subscribe