Trolls, bots and fake accounts among methods used to sway votes


Foreign interference in domestic politics can come in many forms and political parties should be aware of these, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Elections Department said yesterday.

In a joint advisory issued ahead of the next general election, the authorities reminded parties to stay vigilant and immediately report to the police anything that could be indicative of such interference.

"There have been many reports of foreign interference in the elections of other countries," they said.

"Singapore is not immune, and we need to guard against such nefarious activity as we head towards our own general election, which must be held by April 2021. Singapore politics should be decided by Singaporeans alone."

Foreign actors typically aim to shape voting behaviour in order to achieve their desired political outcomes. This is often a coordinated effort involving "covert and subversive means", the agencies said. They outlined five methods of interference observed elsewhere.


In an election, this could involve the manipulation of public opinion through misleading narratives about electoral processes. Foreign actors could also attempt to confuse the public about electoral rules or push narratives that undermine trust in politics and institutions.


This refers to deliberate attempts to artificially inflate the spread and prominence of narratives that serve the foreign actor's agenda. Fake accounts, trolls and bots are sometimes used in a coordinated effort.

In an election, foreign actors may use this method to create a false impression of public opinion about political parties, candidates or campaign policies. Such narratives could also make use of inflammatory material to fragment and polarise society, or cause public order and security incidents.


Foreign actors may create fake online identities to gain a network of followers through interactions that appear to be authentic. These followers could eventually become the targets for an influence campaign.


Foreign actors may directly fund a candidate or party, or do so through a proxy, to increase their chances of winning in an election.


Foreign actors may covertly cultivate favourable relationships with political parties or candidates. This could entail promises of business incentives, donations or titles which take the guise of legitimate platforms.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2020, with the headline Trolls, bots and fake accounts among methods used to sway votes. Subscribe