Well-informed citizenry first line of defence against online falsehoods

Legislation is necessary but by no means sufficient in the fight against online falsehoods.

Ultimately, the first and most important line of defence is a well-informed and discerning citizenry, equipped with the tools to combat online falsehoods, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran yesterday. To achieve this, the Government will continue to support ground-up efforts and invest in resources to build up digital literacy, he added, during the debate on the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill.

Mr Iswaran said the Government agrees with the importance of having fact-checking initiatives in society, one of the recommendations of a Select Committee set up to study ways to fight online falsehoods.

The parliamentary committee, which published its report in September last year, recommended that different media organisations and partners from other industries establish a coalition to debunk falsehoods swiftly and credibly, as well as provide support to such fact-checking initiatives.

But Mr Iswaran said such initiatives should go beyond fact-checking, to "ensure that the discourse is authentic and responsible, and citizens are well informed of the principles of engagement".

"Over time, through the collaborative efforts of different parties and agencies, we envisage a tighter nexus between the different entities, including academia and journalists in Singapore, so that high-quality information can reach the general public, to engender greater understanding of current affairs and complex issues," he added.

"These efforts will also be aligned with the Government's commitment to support the growth of a robust and vibrant information ecosystem, with a variety of entities contributing to the overall effort."

The parliamentary committee, which published its report in September last year, recommended that different media organisations and partners from other industries establish a coalition to debunk falsehoods swiftly and credibly, as well as provide support to such fact-checking initiatives. But Mr Iswaran said such initiatives should go beyond fact-checking, to "ensure that the discourse is authentic and responsible, and citizens are well informed of the principles of engagement".

Responding to Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who had raised the need for media literacy for the young and the elderly, Mr Iswaran gave some examples of what some government agencies are doing.

The National Library Board and the Education and Defence ministries, for instance, provide information literacy resources to adults, students and seniors.

The Media Literacy Council runs the Better Internet Campaign and gives seed funding to youth-led initiatives to address digital literacy and cyber safety and security, Mr Iswaran said.

"Over time and taken together, these measures will empower citizens to make informed decisions on their consumption of information, and be more discerning on multifaceted issues, thereby helping to grow an informed citizenry."

Adrian Lim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 09, 2019, with the headline 'Well-informed citizenry first line of defence against online falsehoods'. Print Edition | Subscribe