SINGAPORE - If Singaporeans do not verify negative comments about Singapore, but spread the falsehoods instead, they will be creating "a hole in our defence".
What they should do is to speak up for Singapore, said Senior Minister of State for Defence Maliki Osman on Friday (March 2) during the debate on his ministry's budget.
Fake news and online falsehoods, left unchecked, will tear at our interfaith unity and weaken Singaporeans' willingness to uphold national interests such as racial and religious harmony, he added.
"We are creating for ourselves a hole in our defence that our adversaries would not hesitate to jump at and widen the divide," he said.
He was answering a question from Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), who had asked about the impact of fake news on Singapore's security.
Noting the growing number of Singaporeans today who work and study abroad, Dr Maliki warned that these transnational families "may have to wrestle with dissenting views more squarely".
Fake news and online falsehoods are a key challenge that has led Mindef to focus on psychological defence.
"Foreign business partners, schoolmates or friends may at times express fundamental disagreement with Singapore's decisions, policies or actions. They could even persuade you to adopt their viewpoint at the expense of supporting our national interests."
He called for individuals to withstand these pressures.
"This is psychological defence - appreciating our vulnerabilities and challenges, advancing our values and interests; being able to spot mistruths; and standing up for Singapore.
He added: " Just as our threats extend beyond the military realm, so must our deterrence. In addition to a credible military force, we need a psychologically resilient people, able to withstand crisis or viral attacks, and not be rattled."
Last month, Parliament convened a Select Committee to look into the threat of fake news, which includes falsehoods about Singapore originating from overseas and state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.
The committee will start holding public hearings at Parliament House from March 14, and is accepting written representations from the public until March 7.
Said Dr Maliki: "Falsehoods could be spread to weaken our trust in public institutions and confidence in a shared future, or to incite fear. Fake news has the potential to undermine us from within."