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Government Proposes Committee To Study How To Deal With Deliberate Online Falsehoods
When Parliament sits next Wednesday (Jan 10), Law Minister K Shanmugam will table a motion to appoint a 10-member committee to study how to act against those who spread misinformation deliberately and with sinister intentions — as seen abroad, especially during elections and referendums. TODAY file photo
January 7th, 2018 | 09:46 AM | 961 views
The Government will ask Parliament to convene a Select Committee to study how to act against those who spread misinformation deliberately and with sinister intentions — as seen abroad, especially during elections and referendums.
In a Green Paper published on Friday (Jan 5), the ministries of Communication and Information, and Law said the issue has to be looked into now, rather than later, given that Singapore is an "attractive target" for the deliberate spread of falsehoods online.
"Online falsehoods pose real and serious challenges ... Singapore should not wait for an incident to occur. We have to learn from the experiences of other countries what the risks are, and what can be done about them. We should be prepared ahead of time," said the ministries in the 21-page Green Paper, which are preliminary and consultative documents, issued to stimulate discussion.
When Parliament sits next Wednesday (Jan 10), Law Minister K Shanmugam will table a motion to appoint a 10-member committee to the task. It will be chaired by Deputy Speaker Charles Chong and comprise seven Members of Parliament (MPs) from the People's Action Party, one Workers' Party MP and one Nominated MP.
If the House votes in favour of the motion, the Select Committee will consider the entities and individuals that engage in such activities, their motivations, what consequences the spread of online falsehoods can have on Singapore, and how the Republic should prevent and combat it.
Members of the public — including stakeholders like the media, technology companies, international experts and civil rights groups — will be invited to make submissions to the committee. The committee will then report its recommendations to Parliament.
The proposal to convene a Select Committee to look into the issue of campaigns to spread misinformation comes nine months after Mr Shanmugam said the Government is reviewing existing laws that can tackle such situations. He noted then that there are currently "limited remedies" in dealing with the worldwide problem of hoaxes circulating on the Internet.
The Green Paper sketched out how the spread of falsehoods by state and non-state actors have influenced elections, caused public alarm, or incited divisions across the world. Singapore, the ministries stressed, is at "high" risk of such foreign interference.
As one of the most globally connected countries in the world, and a racially- and religiously-diverse one, Singapore is an "attractive target" for the deliberate spread of online falsehoods, the ministries added.
In studying various experiences overseas, the ministries identified two common threads.
First, such falsehoods were often aimed at interfering with elections and referendum. It cited how ahead of the US presidential elections in 2016, widely-circulated "news" of Pope Francis endorsing then-candidate Donald Trump and rumours that his opponent Hilary Clinton was running a paedophile ring out of a pizza restaurant in Washington DC appeared to have been designed to reduce Ms Clinton's votes.
Similar instances of "coordinated efforts" to undermine electoral campaigns were observed in general elections in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Indonesia last year, the ministries said.
Second, there are two types of perpetrators: Foreign state actors who want to "engineer specific outcomes" in polls, as well as private individuals and entities, who are typically more driven by financial considerations.
Even Germany — which appears to be one of the "best prepared for foreign-linked online interference", where major political parties have agreed to refrain from using social media bots at elections — was said to have been hit by misinformation campaigns by foreign entities during the polls last September, said the ministries.
"There will be foreign actors who wish to destabilise Singapore. We have to ensure that our national security is not compromised," they wrote.
"It is (important) to ensure that discussions and debates on national issues take place free of foreign interference ... We cannot allow ourselves to be covertly manipulated by others, and it must also be clear that after all the discussions, Singapore's future must be decided by Singaporeans alone."
In August last year, academic Huang Jing was singled out by the Government as an "agent of influence" who had used his position as a former professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy to "deliberately and covertly advance the agenda of a foreign country at Singapore's expense". Dr Huang was asked to leave the country.
Actors who wish to harm Singapore may also try to whip up communal tensions by exploiting racial and religious fault-lines or tailor their messages using specific channels and languages, for instance.
In 2016, for instance, online website The Real Singapore website was ordered to shut and its editors jailed for publishing content that incited hostility between Singaporeans and foreigners.
What are Select Committees?
Select Committees comprise Members of Parliament (MP) chosen to inquire into and report on a particular subject.
The last such committee was appointed more than two decades ago, in March 1996, to study Government subsidies for hospitals and polyclinics, and statements on the issue made by the Singapore Democratic Party.
In August 1989, an eight-member Select Committee was formed to examine the Republic's land transportation policy, including the need to curb road usage, control the population of motor vehicles and the role of taxis.
Parliament can also refer a Bill to a Select Committee after its Second Reading, as was the case in the Cross-Border Railways Bill in November last year.
The committee will present a report of its discussions, including any proposed changes to the draft legislations, before the Bill is read for a third time in Parliament. The Bill, if passed, will give the authorities more teeth to conduct surveys or works on land or buildings in or outside areas required by the Singapore-Malaysia rail links.
Select Committees may hold closed-door or public hearings, and are sometimes empowered to call witnesses or request documents.
Once a committee has made its findings and recommendations, it presents a report to Parliament. Any MP may move a motion to adopt or reject its report. These reports will also be made public.
Members of Select Committees are picked by an eight-member panel chaired by Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin. Their composition reflects the balance between the Government and Opposition benches. Nominated MPs do not sit on such committees unless Parliament specifically provides for them to do so.
courtesy of TODAY
by KELLY NG
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