Misinformation can fan flames of Islamophobia globally: Minister

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam delivering the opening address yesterday at the conference on fake news.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam delivering the opening address yesterday at the conference on fake news.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

An unassuming video of a cheering crowd provoked an uproar two years ago, following claims that it showed Muslims celebrating the 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

It went viral on social media, racking up 500,000 views in two hours.

But it was, in fact, a video of people celebrating Pakistan's victory in a cricket match.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam gave the example yesterday at a forum on fake news to illustrate how misinformation has helped fan the flames of Islamophobia around the world. "There have been many attempts to use online misinformation to smear Muslims as a group, and turn non-Muslims against Muslims," he said.

This is done by people who are Islamophobic, as well as those seeking to make the Muslim community more exclusivist, such as radicals who want to turn other communities against moderate Muslims, and nudge these moderates towards more extreme ideologies.

Misinformation can play a part in silencing moderates, the minister noted at the conference organised by The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. He highlighted a photograph of Muslims protesting against the attack on London Bridge earlier this year, which was later taken out of context by hate-mongers, who claimed it was staged.

"It discredited the moderate Muslims, who wanted to step forward, and made them a target of attacks, so that in future, moderate Muslims will not hold their head high and stand up," said Mr Shanmugam.

There have been attacks around the world motivated by hate speech and religious divides, he noted.

"Locally, we have managed to integrate more successfully than many other countries. But that does not mean we are immune to such attacks," he said. "We are vulnerable - not just us, but every society - to misinformation that exploits racial and religious divides."

Fake information has been used to stoke anti-foreigner sentiments as well, he noted, citing an article by The Real Singapore in 2015 that claimed a Filipino family had caused an incident between police and participants of a Thaipusam procession. "We have to try and stop and deal with the attacks that try to spread hate and xenophobia here," Mr Shanmugam said.

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2017, with the headline 'Misinformation can fan flames of Islamophobia globally: Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe