Fake news are not new, but this year, the Government appeared to have realised that it left unmanaged, the damage from such falsehoods can be far worse than just people boycotting NTUC’s rice grains.
Minister for Home Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam told Parliament on 4 Apr, “We see the phenomenon hasn’t had that much impact yet, but you can predict the same sequence of actors – foreign countries, foreign agencies, people sitting outside of Singapore using it to either destabilise our society or… doing it to make money. Both are problematic”.
Shanmugam had cited the now-defunct The Real Singapore as an example of how fake news created tensions in our community. He also put it on record to call out States Times Review and All Singapore Stuff for spreading falsehoods. That a Cabinet Minister had specifically named sites and called them out for creating and spreading falsehoods. Must have been a real unsettling situation for alternative news sites.
Still, it was rather surprising that The Middle Ground published this odd article, ‘Factually, the G website, is a shambles’ over the weekend, which largely took aim at the Government’s Factually website and it’s inadequacies, and then somehow reached a conclusion that the government should look at its arsenals of rebutting fake news, before it even thinks about toughening the laws. Our Dear Bertha must have fallen asleep while Shanmugam was speaking.
Even The Online Citizen had a lot to say on this matter, defending itself, setting itself apart from the likes of States Times Review and All Singapore Stuff, and more importantly, proposing suggestions for where this legislation should head and how the government should change the way it interacts with news sites like themselves. Not pooh-pooh Shanmugam’s point that laws here need more bite to tackle such falsehoods.
If one acknowledged the phenomenon that fake news can do irreparable damage, such as news reports pointing to fake news as a reason for Trump’s win in the US Presidential Election, with involvement from the Russians, or influencing the Brexit Referendum, then one agrees that laws have to be forward-looking, and work on a preventive model, rather than a reactive one.
Or do we want to wait till systematic, planned, and targeted fake news makers succeed in undoing the Singapore we know so well?
Don’t get me wrong. Bertha definitely made some sense in pointing out the blah-ness of Factually, but to say that having a suite of counter-fake news tools will solve the problem is simply being myopic. Just countering fake news means you are forever one step behind. Making it not worth one’s while to create and spread such falsehoods and hitting them where they hurt most would be a better strategy in the long term when dealing with fake news makers.
As a socio-political site, we would be glad to see trashy sites weeded out. We have tolerated them on our landscape for far too long. And all this while, the jokers are laughing all the way to the bank earning from the advertising money generated on their sites.
And if we ever do find that fake news are being pushed out all over local online landscape for something more sinister like espionage, I would rather this country be ready to fight back with tough laws, rather than be left grasping at straws to convict those who are trying to take out this country and bring us on our knees.
As a Russian saying goes, “The wise man learns from someone else’s mistakes, the smart man learns from his own, and the stupid one never learns.”
This is the post-truth era after all, and new tactics are needed for new antics.
And in the end, when you weed out the trash, there will only be the credible alternative sites left, which may not do badly for credibility.