Most foreign social media accounts commenting on GE2020 were not Internet bots: Analytics firm

According to Meltwater, users from at least six countries took part in the discussions. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - During Singapore's general election in July 2020, foreign-based social media accounts participated actively in conversations on the polls, according to a company that provides social media analytics services.

Using geo-technology, Meltwater also found that most of them were owned by real users with a genuine interest in Singapore's politics and social issues, it said in a report published on its website on Wednesday (Dec 16).

They were not Internet bots, it added, referencing the software apps that can be programmed to quickly spread disinformation and amplify negative public sentiment.

Meltwater cited several examples in the run-up to polling day on July 10 to support its conclusion.

One of them is a police statement made on July 5 about then Workers' Party (WP) Sengkang GRC candidate Raeesah Khan's alleged comments on discrimination by law enforcement authorities.

Ms Khan, who is now a Sengkang GRC MP, had made the comments in her social media posts in 2018 and May 2020.

Reports were made to the police on July 4 and 5, and the subsequent police response sparked more than 6,000 social media posts on race and inequality in Singapore.

The chatter came from at least 17 countries, with most of the conversations happening on Twitter, said the analytics company.

Of the 17 identifiable countries, 20.5 per cent of the chatter originated from Singapore, followed by 7.6 per cent from Malaysia. On Twitter, half of the posts were retweets and 47 per cent were quoted tweets.

Another example Meltwater gave is a June 28 Straits Times report on 10 proposals from the WP manifesto.

One proposal is to let singles apply for a build-to-order flat earlier, at the age of 28, instead of having to wait until they turn 35.

According to Meltwater, users from at least six countries took part in the discussions and no bot-like activities were detected: "The conversations were mainly neutral, as netizens expressed their desires to own a home at a young age. The posts also did not carry any notable political slant."

It, however, noted that an unusual series of Twitter accounts with names that had the same country prefix "VN", followed by a random string of numbers.

There were at least seven such accounts and they were created in June and July. Six of the seven are now suspended, said Meltwater, which is headquartered in San Francisco.

It observed that the tweets posted by these accounts were "extremely critical" of some political office-holders, with a few focused on calling for the arrest of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and alleging that the Singapore Government publishes fake news.

These accounts exhibited questionable behaviour but their influence on GE2020 was "negligible", it added.

Meltwater further noted that social media platforms are taking a proactive stance against foreign interference campaigns.

Facebook, for instance, has set up teams in Singapore to look out for malignant activity on its platform while Twitter has introduced a policy that states it is not to be used to manipulate or disrupt civic processes like elections.

But the report cautioned that social media users need to remain on guard against deliberate falsehoods and influence operations.

"Every nation is vulnerable to such an attack, including countries such as Singapore," it said. "As a society, we cannot afford to be complacent or risk the integrity of our politics."

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