15-year-old is panel's youngest witness to date

Zubin Jain, a student at United World College of South East Asia, said he wrote to the committee as he has had arguments with friends and family whose views and beliefs were often formed as a result of them having accessed false information.
Zubin Jain, a student at United World College of South East Asia, said he wrote to the committee as he has had arguments with friends and family whose views and beliefs were often formed as a result of them having accessed false information.PHOTO: GOV.SG

When 15-year-old Zubin Jain wrote to a high-level parliamentary committee and outlined his views about the fake news scourge, he did not tell anyone.

His parents were "utterly shocked" when he told them last month that he was invited to appear before the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods - the panel's youngest witness to date.

Said his mother Asiya Bakht, 44: "We were scared. I asked if it was okay to testify. Will he be in trouble? Has he lied? Because in the e-mail (to the committee), he said he might also have spread online falsehoods."

Her worries were misplaced: Committee members praised his bravery in stepping forward to give evidence.

The Grade 10 student at United World College of South East Asia confessed that he did not know what to expect. "I had my friend read out my submission this morning, and there were so many spelling errors that I thought they called me here to correct my spelling. That was my secret fear," he told The Straits Times yesterday.

Zubin, who blogs about economics and politics, said he decided to write to the committee as he has had arguments with friends and family whose views and beliefs were often formed as a result of them having accessed false information. And such beliefs could be hard to correct.

He once argued with an aunt who believed in homeopathy - or alternative treatment - and questioned the sources of her information: "But she said homeopathy worked for her many times. You can't really argue with that even with scientific evidence."

To this, Madam Bakht shook her head, saying: "That is him - too much fact-checking."

He told the committee that any legislation against fake news should not target individuals who do not have a clear malicious intent. "As someone who writes and blogs online, I did not want my own habits and my freedom to speak get taken away," he said.

Public hearings to fight online falsehoods: Read the submissions here and watch more videos.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2018, with the headline '15-year-old is panel's youngest witness to date'. Print Edition | Subscribe