Select Committee on fake news: Summary of panel's 22 suggestions

The Select Committee came up with 22 recommendations to fight the scourge of deliberate online falsehoods. PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - Dealing with the challenge of deliberate online falsehoods requires a multi-pronged approach, guided by the core values and aspirations of Singapore's society, the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods said in its report on Thursday (Sept 20).

The committee came up with 22 recommendations to fight the scourge and these are summed up below:

Public education national framework

The Government should set up a framework to coordinate and guide public education initiatives, to ensure they have the necessary scope and scale.

For schools, the framework should impart critical thinking skills and include a broad-based curriculum with a component on the motivations and agendas of disinformation agents, their tactics and strategies.

Moral and civic education should also foster active and constructive public discourse and responsible online behaviour.

For the public, the framework should guide education efforts in building information and media literacy. It should also coordinate the Government's actions to ensure coverage of all segments of society.

The Government should consider encouraging support for ground-up campaigns to widen outreach beyond its own initiatives.

Ensure accurate journalism

News organisations, technology companies and institutes of higher learning should consider ways to ramp up the training of journalists of all backgrounds, especially on the techniques for ensuring accuracy.

Journalists should proactively find ways to update their skills in digital fact-checking, and arm themselves with knowledge on how fake news and disinformation campaigns work.

Mainstream media and alternative news platforms should also hold themselves to the same professional standards of journalism, in terms of fairness, accuracy and reporting integrity.

The Government should consider how to support these goals in ensuring good journalism practices.

Promote social cohesion actively

Organisations and initiatives that promote social cohesion should provide clarifications and information on distortions and falsehoods that affect social cohesion. This can be achieved through people-to-people interactions and by creating "safe spaces" for exchanging views on sensitive issues.

They can also take on the role of influential voices of society, mediate honest discussion among differing groups and reach into, and across, echo chambers.

The Government should support and conduct research to understand why society is vulnerable.

Trust in public institutions

Public institutions should provide timely information to people in response to misinformation, pre-empt vulnerabilities and put out information in advance to "inoculate the public" from deliberate online falsehoods.

Current efforts should also be reviewed to ensure transparency, accountability and participation and communication by the people.

Fact-checking coalition

Media organisations and their partners from other industries should consider a coalition that debunks falsehoods swiftly and credibly, or give support to such initiatives.

But the Government's role in such a coalition needs to be further considered, given different views on its involvement.

New legislation against fake news

The Government should have the powers to swiftly disrupt the spread and influence of online falsehoods. Legislation will be needed to raise the visibility and access of corrections, limit or block exposure to the falsehood, disrupt their amplification through bots and digital advertising tools, and discredit their sources.

Such legislation should break the viral nature of falsehoods in a matter of hours, and should have adequate safeguards to ensure due process and proper exercise of power, and to assure people of the integrity of the decision-making process. The decision maker should also be effective and credible.

Measures, such as tagging of corrections and notifications, take-down powers and access-blocking, should be deployed in a calibrated manner.

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The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods made 22 recommendations in a 176-page report submitted to Parliament, about five months after it held public hearings.

Safeguard election integrity

Additional measures to safeguard Singapore's elections, including implementing measures and legislation, should be identified by the Government as elections are a prime target of deliberate online falsehoods.

It should also consider early warning systems to assess when and how to intervene with the spread of the phenomenon.

Demonetise the culprits

Powers are needed to demonetise those who create and spread online falsehoods, including through legislation.

These will disrupt digital advertising revenue to such purveyors, and allow the courts to recover any financial gains they make. Such powers will cover "hired guns" paid by others to create and spread falsehoods.

Criminal sanctions

When fake news perpetrators cause serious harm and meet a requisite degree of criminal culpability, deterrent measures should be imposed on them.

These measures should cover the range of methods and actors used, including the masterminds behind the falsehoods.

The committee, however, is not calling for all online falsehoods to be criminalised. Criminal sanctions should be imposed only if the purveyors of fake news cause serious harm and meet a requisite degree of criminal culpability.

Actions to be taken by social media and tech companies

They need to take proactive action against the amplification of falsehoods. These include: Prioritising credible content, de-prioritising falsehoods, and labelling or shutting down accounts and their networks designed to amplify falsehoods.

Companies can also calibrate or restrict the use of their digital advertising tools from suspicious actors, ensuring these tools do not encourage or aid the spread of falsehoods. Companies should strive to raise the transparency of these advertising tools as well.

Tech companies should also contribute to a clearer online information ecosystem and implement measures for users to interpret meaningfully the information they receive, through the disclosure of the source's provenance or tags, among others.

Finally, tech companies should demonstrate their accountability to their users, the people and the Government by undertaking regular voluntary reporting and independent audits.

Government to legislate and regulate tech companies

The Government should legally compel these companies to adopt measures against deliberate online falsehoods, because Facebook, Google and Twitter "have a policy of generally not acting against content on the basis that it is false".

It should also adopt a regulatory approach, like working with tech companies to develop solutions and a voluntary code of practice or guidelines to tackle the scourge.

The Government may also support start-ups and companies to develop platforms, products and technologies that ensure the integrity of their online information.

Draw up a national strategy to counter state-sponsored operatives

The Government is urged to also come up with a coordinated approach to tackle disinformation from state-sponsored operations.

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