A Singapore Perspective | Daily News
Fake News, Disinformation and Subversion:

A Singapore Perspective

Dr. Shashi Jayakumar
Dr. Shashi Jayakumar

The Institute of National Security Studies, Sri Lanka on July 5. 2018 conducted a Security Salon on a very important topic concerning national security. This was titled: “Fake News, Disinformation and Subversion: A Singapore Perspective”. The guest lecture was conducted by Dr. Shashi Jayakumar, Head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (Singapore). This lecture was hosted at the Ministry of Defence graced by the presence of Secretary of Defence, Kapila Waidyaratne PC, Director General INSSSL, Asanga Abeyagoonesekara, German Ambassador, Jorn Rohde, members of the diplomatic core, and distinguished members of the military among other interested participants.

Dr. Jayakumar highlighted in his presentation that Fake News could take several forms: Rumours, misreporting, misunderstandings, Parody/Satire, and Intentional (and organised) falsehoods. He illustrated several examples of fake news from India (rumours fueling lynch mobs), disinformation campaigns at elections and the possibilities a country’s political discourse being tainted or otherwise subverted by another power. Jayakumar opined that the Cambridge Analytica scandal was the tip of a much wider iceberg: state powers could attempt to use such means as “a preparation for cross border subversion on a wider scale.”

Jayakumar presented that Singapore is a country where ethnic and religious harmony is paramount and the government promote moderation, toleration, and coexistence as core values. “The government will not hesitate to act against those who seek to disrupt religious peace and ethnic stability”. He illustrated this with an example from Singapore: the founders and editor of The Real Singapore (TRS) website was jailed under the Sedition Act for manufacturing and promoting content that could stir up racial tensions within the country. In an increasing globalized age use of technology is vital for development. In the Singaporean example, the vision is the creation of a ‘Smart Nation’, which gives myriad possibilities for advancement and the improvement of the lives of the people. But this also means that states seeking to interfere in sovereign affairs of the country now have multiple attack vectors.

Dr. Jayakumar recognized that some countries such as India and Sri Lanka had (in response to violence fanned by fake news) attempted to interdict social media on a case-by-case basis. Dr. Jayakumar suggested that Singapore, while observing these developments with interest, would likely only employ these means as a last resort. Dr. Jayakumar noted that what was being prioritized in Singapore was teaching critical thinking skills from a young age, as well as instilling good cyber hygiene practices.

The final discussion among participants was on whether regulatory solutions to the issue of fake news could result in stifling of genuine discussion, or whether for that matter government efforts at debunking fake news could have the effect of reinforcing the belief in the original (false) news. In the final analysis, Dr. Jayakumar concluded that it is important for trust-building efforts to take place between government and people, and for all its constituencies to work together to ensure social cohesion.

- Natasha Fernando (Research Assistant, Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka)


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