Netizens can sieve out falsehoods most times, but govt action needed in emergencies: NTU lecturers

Govt should take down falsehoods to send a strong message In cases of emergency, the government should issue take-down notices of falsehoods and conduct closer monitoring of those who create it, said NTU assistant professor Liew Kai Khiun.
Assistant Professor Liew Kai Khiun (right) and Associate Professor Alton Chua from NTU's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information speaking at the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods, on March 28, 2018.
Assistant Professor Liew Kai Khiun (right) and Associate Professor Alton Chua from NTU's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information speaking at the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods, on March 28, 2018.PHOTO: GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - The local online citizenry is sophisticated and can detect online falsehoods quite quickly most of the time, but there are situations that warrant government intervention, said two academics from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information Nanyang Technological University.

On a normal day, "low-level online trolling" can be quite easily dismissed by local netizens, Assistant Professor Liew Kai Khiun told a Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods on Wednesday (March 28), the seventh day of public hearings by the committee.

However, in the event of an emergency such as an epidemic outbreak or riot, or a major event such as an election, the Government should step in as a lifeguard, he added.

In such situations, the Government should issue take-down notices of falsehoods and conduct closer monitoring of those who create such fake news, he said.

And such steps should not be taken quietly, which could fan conspiracy theories and suspicion, but rather be publicised to send a message, he said.

Said Dr Liew: "In future - and perhaps even as we are speaking now - something that is posted online cannot truly be taken down, it will always exist on some platform. But the take-down principle is important for expressing a strong message... that the Government is serious about this, the authorities are acting on it."

Associate Professor Alton Chua agreed, adding: "The taking down itself cannot be done in isolation of other measures. It has to be publicised on mainstream media. It has to be interpreted in the larger context of what we value as a society."

 
 
 
 

Both professors also argued for other longer-term measures to be implemented.

Dr Liew said: "We have to accept a certain level of falsehood will persist. We cannot come up with a new law and expect religious and racial harmony. (Laws) must be supplemented by political and administrative measures."

Citizens have to be made more aware of how to conduct themselves online and what to look out for, he said.

The Government must be seen to take action when citizens raise complaints and grievances, because simmering underlying tensions can be easily exploited by online trolls to spark a crisis, he added.

In his written submission to the committee, Dr Chua called for an expansion of the National Education curriculum to include the moral, legal and social implications of fake news.

"As a broadened aim of total defence, the goal is to develop digital information savviness in our students, and build national resilience against online falsehood in the long-run. Similar courses could also be mounted in local universities and private institutions that offer continuing adult education," he wrote.

He also suggested supporting and growing fact-checking online communities.

"A starting point can be found in the hubs of existing social networks, and in particular, influential users whose views and voices can spread widely within a short time," he noted.

"Working as partners with the Government, these users serve as anchors in crowd-sourced platforms to expose hoaxes and lies. In this way, falsehoods are dealt with from both top-down and bottom-up."

Incentives for participation can come in the forms of gamification or even public service recognition, he said.

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