SINGAPORE - Be discerning to question, check and push back, instead of simply forwarding fake news, said Senior Minister of State for Defence Mohammad Maliki Osman on Friday (March 3).
Fake and distorted news has an impact on Singapore's security, and even more so, in the ideological battlefield with terrorist groups like ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) which use propaganda materials to incite hostility and violence, Dr Maliki added.
Speaking during a Parliamentary debate on the Defence Ministry's budget, Dr Maliki said history has shown that information-attacks are effective in targeting all sectors of society.
He recalled the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950, which "arose out of newspaper reports that gave competing versions of the facts about legal proceedings and Maria's stay in the convent".
Maria Hertogh was a Dutch Catholic girl whose foster family raised her in Singapore as a Muslim, and her custody case incited racial tensions.
The riots resulted in 18 dead, 173 injured and significant property damage.
"And this took place in an age when news was spread in print, or by word of mouth," he added.
Dr Maliki said information-attacks are far more effective today, as the spread of fake news and misinformation is much faster with WhatsApp and Facebook, and its impact amplified.
He pointed to the false claim made by the now-defunct website The Real Singapore, about a Filipino family's complaint that had caused a scuffle between police and participants at the Thaipusam procession in 2015.
The news went viral and "could have led to an event like the Maria Hertogh riots", if not for discerning netizens who reported the "insensitive article", Dr Maliki said.
He said the best defence and response to such threats is Total Defence.
Total Defence is the national campaign started in 1984 to remind Singaporeans of the roles they play - individually and collectively - in building a strong nation and guarding against threats.
Dr Maliki said in the area of fake news, each individual is the "first line of defence".
"When you see a shocking article, a good first step is to Google it, and see if it is being reported on reputable news sites," he suggested.
During his speech, Dr Maliki also gave a report card on the recommendations made by the Advisory Council on Community Relations in Defence (Accord) in 2015.
He said all 18 proposals to boost the support and recognition of National Service (NS) have been implemented.
These include recognising employers and businesses which are supportive of NS, and encouraging retailers and merchants to show their appreciation of NSmen through discounts and benefits.