Submission ideas range from literature, history lessons to asking the wife

The best way to teach Singaporeans how to distinguish fake news from fact is to have them study literature and history in school, said poet Koh Jee Leong, who is also the founder of a non-profit literary organisation called Singapore Unbound.

The study of these two subjects will help people discern between competing narratives, he suggested in his written submission to the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods.

It was among the 170 written submissions received by the committee and uploaded yesterday on the Parliament website.

These included those of the 65 people who testified during the eight days of public hearings conducted by the Select Committee.

The Straits Times perused the suggestions of those who did not testify and while there were a handful of seemingly tongue-in-cheek ideas, most were serious.

Engineer Yeo Chee Hian, for example, wanted each and every citizen to have a virtual identity account tagged to his birth certificate, to help the Government track social media activity.

The suggestion by freelance journalist Teymoor Nabili had a ring of simplicity: Make fake news irrelevant by offering a better news product through mainstream media.

Citing an idea by economics professor Julia Cage of Harvard University in the United States, he said it would involve changing the media's business model to a hybrid one, with the structure akin to that of a foundation in the United States.

This model would allow tax breaks for contributions to the foundation and enable news organisations to crowdfund their operations.

Newsrooms could then "con-centrate instead on accountable journalism, creating good quality news content and building up a trust relationship with consumers", he said.

Engineer Ler Han Qiang's idea involved hiring the experienced media professionals who were laid off by local media organisations last year. He suggested redeploying them to develop a framework and system that can establish the veracity of news.

Trainer Lim Puay Kuan, who was particularly concerned about the vulnerability of senior citizens to online falsehoods, suggested some kind of insurance product to protect those with low media literacy skills.

Many of the other submissions covered the same ground as those presented at the public hearings. For example, several academics and researchers said it was important to define "fake news" properly before creating new legislation, if any.

They also warned about the risks of new legislation, though some said if applied properly, it could help deter perpetrators and send a strong signal that Singapore cares about facts and evidence.

As for the rare and quirky suggestion, one stood out. Self-employed computer engineer Rongxiang Lin called on men to rely on women's sixth sense. Uncertain if the news is fake or fact? Ask the wife.

Yasmine Yahya

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 10, 2018, with the headline 'Submission ideas range from literature, history lessons to asking the wife'. Print Edition | Subscribe