Many Singaporeans concerned about fake news: Poll

The survey found that four in 10 Singaporeans often wonder whether the news they read is true or false.
The survey found that four in 10 Singaporeans often wonder whether the news they read is true or false. PHOTO: ST FILE

Fake news is a worldwide scourge that worries many Singaporeans too, according to a recent survey.

It found that four in 10 Singaporeans often wonder whether the news they read is true or false.

It also found that the issue of fake news online worries two in 10 a lot, and another four in 10 "some". Only 12 per cent said they do not worry about it at all. And more non-Chinese Singaporeans polled worry about fake news a lot compared with Chinese Singaporeans - at 27 per cent versus 18 per cent.

These are the key findings from a poll of 1,000 Singaporeans aged 15 and older, done by market research company Blackbox Research between April 10 and 24.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said the results show that "Singaporeans have come alive to the fact that fake news is around us".

Last month, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament that the Government was "seriously considering" how to tackle fake news as current laws are limited. Associate Professor Tan said the announcement has helped raise awareness of the issue.

The fake news phenomenon has attracted global attention in recent months owing to its influence on several elections last year.

Digital management consultant Ryan Lim said Singapore's level of preparedness in dealing with fake news is still in its infancy. He cited Latvia, which has been bombarded with propaganda from Russia aimed at destabilising the country, and has seen dozens of fact-checking websites set up by activists to debunk and counter false claims.

Global technology companies are also stepping up efforts to combat fake news. Google is looking at asking users for help with its search results rather than relying solely on algorithms, and Facebook has begun pairing some claims on its social media platform with fact-checking articles that say whether a claim is true.

"That most Singaporeans worry about fake news is a good thing, but this may simply be surface-level awareness," Mr Lim said.

"Not many are yet aware of the different, subtle forms fake news can take, and how they can slowly affect your trust towards, say, public institutions or leaders."

For instance, those with malicious intent could use video and voice manipulation technology to "make" a public figure say controversial and seditious things, he said.

The survey also found that people across ages and races perceived alternative sociopolitical sites to be more likely to publish fake or misleading news than mainstream media sites and government websites.

For example, 44 per cent and 42 per cent thought alternative news sites TR Emeritus and All Singapore Stuff, respectively, were guilty of doing so - and 44 per cent felt the same about and The Middle Ground. In contrast, 13 per cent felt The Straits Times website was guilty of this, and 12 per cent felt that way of Channel NewsAsia's website.

Only 7 per cent said they thought government websites were guilty of fake or misleading news.

MP Zaqy Mohamad, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Communications and Information, said it is heartening that many can discern that the mainstream media is relatively more credible. But it is also under stress owing to demands to deliver news quickly and accurately, he noted.

Observers said people have a part to play in combating fake news. Said Mr Lim: "Treat fake news like a virus. If you think something is a bit fishy, check it out first. If you can't verify it, isolate it and kill it off."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Many Singaporeans concerned about fake news: Poll'. Print Edition | Subscribe