There is no shortage of examples from around the world to illustrate just how live, serious and insidious the threat of fake news can be. Individuals, groups and states have sought to generate and disseminate false information to advance their own interests and undermine those who are opposed to or at odds with them. The report of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, released on Thursday, noted that such falsehoods have been aimed at discrediting leaders, swaying election outcomes, and sowing discord. These have also been used to spark tensions among ethnic groups and between residents and immigrants. The deliberate spread of falsehoods is not new. States large and small have weaponised information throughout history. But technology has magnified untruths and amplified their reach.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have aided - and in some cases abetted - their spread. The report underlined how this has become a strategically attractive option for states to spread disinformation, especially as research suggests that falsehoods have the upper hand over facts in today's environment. Singapore has been a target of foreign, state-sponsored information warfare. This is expected to continue as agencies and states seek to influence policies here. Such assaults are part of a spectrum of non-military tools and were seen in recent cyber attacks, including the hacking of SingHealth's databases. In other instances, a foreign country is known to have used news articles and social media to influence a segment of Singapore society to come round to accepting its actions globally. Foreign actors may well attempt to stir tensions during periods of leadership transition or at elections - directly, or by exploiting the ready availability of cyber armies and troll farms in the region. They may also use these to disrupt Singapore's cohesion and multiracial make-up.