Religious leaders play important role in fighting deliberate online falsehoods: Grace Fu

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu at the Inter-Religious Organisation interfaith charity dinner at the Fullerton Hotel on Dec 19, 2018. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA
Silent prayer led by (from left) Imam Habib Hassan, Swami Jitnamansananda, Rabbi Rivni Nathienel Moshe, Ruston Manocher Ghadialli, Shi You Guang, Master Kow Jong Tsuan, Chandrakant Shah, Sr. Theresa LH Seow, Ranjit Singh Vahan and Wong Meng Fook. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Religious leaders in Singapore have an important role in leading the fight against fake news.

They are responsible for guiding their congregations to discern rumours, distortions and myths about each other's religions and current affairs, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu on Wednesday (Dec 19).

Speaking to more than 400 guests at the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) interfaith charity dinner at the Fullerton Hotel, Ms Fu said Singaporeans had to be especially discerning in a multiracial and multi-religious society.

"Bigger powers and non-state actors within Singapore or overseas can easily use the online space to exploit the religious fault lines for their ideological or political purpose," she said.

While social media can help to build ties, experience has shown it can also be used to sow discord, she said, citing how Facebook groups were used to create division during the 2016 US presidential elections and the religious conflict in Sri Lanka earlier this year that was fuelled by social media.

"We must stand prepared to call out falsehoods that incite discrimination, hate speech or religious violence," she said.

"This requires followers of different religions to build a strong foundation of trust and friendship in times of peace, through goodwill and open communication."

IRO president Ben J. Benjamin also announced that the dinner, held to launch IRO's 70th anniversary celebrations next year, raised over $250,000 through table bookings and donations, for six charities.

These were Bright Hill Evergreen Home, Care Corner Singapore, the Sikh Welfare Council, Society of Sheng Jong Welfare Services, the United Indian Muslim Association and IRO itself.

The IRO, founded in 1949, promotes inter-religious harmony among the various religious groups here.

Ten religions - Hindu, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Taoist, Jain, Christian, Islam, Sikh and Baha'i religions - are represented.

IRO general manager Nazhath Faheema said the organisation is finalising plans for a digital communications outreach campaign next year to enhance inter-faith understanding.

"We will be creating an online platform to reach out to Singaporeans, and also make use of social media," she said.

She added that outreach programmes will be organised to educate people about other religions and also encourage interaction, especially among the younger segments of the country.

"For example, young people like food and music, so we will use those elements to draw connections to religions."

She said the amount raised during Wednesday's dinner would help IRO to deepen its efforts in promoting inter-religious harmony among Singaporeans.

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