Ms Low Khah Gek
CEO of ITE,
Dr Yek Tiew Ming
Principal of ITE College East,
Mr Lock Wai Han
Chairman of the Media Literacy Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to join you this morning at ITE College East’s Inaugural Service Learning Day. It is an excellent initiative especially because values are best imbibed through the act of service to society. I understand that the students have planned a variety of events, including a digital clinic for our seniors from the South East District, on how to discern fake news.
2 This is especially relevant in today’s information age. We live in exciting times, with many technological advances, knowledge sharing opportunities, and novel ways of interacting with one another.
3 But this is also an age that is fraught with disinformation. The very channels that are used to convey information and share information with one another are also the channels that are being abused to spread deliberate online falsehoods (DOF). The motives are varied – it can be for financial gain, to sow discord, and even to radicalise people – but the impact is profound, because what it means is that it can erode social cohesion and in extreme circumstances, pull communities apart.
4 It is a challenge that people in the world over are thinking about. We have seen measures taken in the US Congress, which held hearings to investigate Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data to plant fake news to influence the 2016 Presidential Elections. In July, a UK Parliamentary Committee convened an Inquiry into Disinformation and Fake News.
5 In Singapore, we formed a Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods to understand the threat and how we can counter it. We are particularly susceptible to DOFs because of the high level of connectivity that we have in Singapore, and our mobile and internet penetration rate.
An information literate population is our first line of defence
6 But there is no easy solution to this complex, multi-faceted problem. We need a whole-of-society, multi-pronged response to the challenge.
7 In response to the Select Committee’s recommendations, we have announced that the Government is working on a comprehensive suite of measures, comprising both legislative and non-legislative solutions.
8 I want to emphasise, legislation is one part of the solution. But it is not sufficient.
9 Indeed, in dealing with DOFs, the most durable response lies at a much more fundamental level.
10 You and I remain Singapore’s first and most important line of defence against DOFs. If each and every citizen understands that not all online information is authentic, and has the capacity and confidence to discern fact from falsehoods, then, and only then, can Singapore truly be able to withstand the threat posed by DOFs.
11 How do we get there? In one word – it’s Education. And it is fitting that we are in an education institution in order to talk about this further.
12 Education remains an important anchor in our strategy against DOFs. And we in the Government are committed to equipping Singaporeans to be more aware, to be more discerning, and also be able to call out DOFs.
13 In doing so, we have to recognise that different parts of society have different needs and preferences. Our programmes reflect this diversity, and the Ministry of Communications and Information will continue to work on these programmes and enhance them. Let me give you some examples.
14 One is the National Library Board’s (NLB) Source. Understand. Research. Evaluate. (or S.U.R.E.) programme, which raises awareness of the dangers, and the steps that need to be taken to discern fake news. The upgraded S.U.R.E version 2.0 comprises three main thrusts.
15 The first, is called S.U.R.E. for Life, and it educates the general public on the threats posed by DOFs, and on a more personal level, the losses that can result from scams.
16 S.U.R.E for Work is the second thrust, and it helps adults pick up trusted techniques to sieve out reliable sources of information at work and sort them from those that are less reliable. Mr Sazali bin Zainal, who serves as President of the Singapore Industrial and Services Employee’s Union, found NLB’s workshop useful as union leaders frequently received information forwarded by members. By learning how to assess the credibility of the information, Mr Sazali says he is now able to pro-actively alert his union members of false information and messages.
17 Complementing these two initiatives - S.U.R.E. for Life and S.U.R.E for Work, is another one that we call S.U.R.E. for School, which imparts information literacy and critical thinking skills through programmes for students and teaching resources for educators.
18 By focusing on contextual application of information literacy skills, in other words, making it relevant to the different context that we all are in, NLB will enable citizens to make informed decisions in their daily lives.
Students and Teachers
19 Today, our students are very tech savvy and avid users of the Internet, and they are also prolific creators of their own content online. They stand to benefit greatly therefore from knowing how to manage, create and share digital information in a thoughtful and responsible way.
20 New Media Literacies are already part of the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) 21st Century Competencies Framework. On behalf of MOE, I am happy to announce that the Ministry will be rolling out a New Media Literacies toolkit in mid-November 2018, in all primary and secondary schools, and junior colleges in order to further support our teachers.
21 This valuable teaching resource will include lesson ideas, presentation slides and assessment items, to support teachers’ efforts to infuse New Media Literacies in their lessons. The toolkit will also contain real-life case studies, such as Facebook posts containing falsehoods that have gone viral, to provide authentic examples from which students can learn.
22 Through the toolkit, MOE aims to nurture students who are responsible and ethical Internet users.
Mature Adults and Seniors
23 We also want to make sure that our message reaches the wider population effectively. And that is why our people sector organisations play a very important role. They have a good understanding of different segments, what their concerns, needs and preferences are. Their knowledge of the ground has been gathered through many years of interactions and engagement with the different segments of our population.
24 One people sector organisation that has risen to the challenge of tackling DOF is the Media Literacy Council (MLC). The MLC’s Better Internet Campaign has covered fake news and the importance of fact-checking extensively in the past two years; and it exemplifies the importance of tailoring content and tips on identifying DOF to the needs of different user groups.
25 On behalf of MLC, I am pleased to launch today the fifth mini campaign of this year’s Better Internet Campaign, that focuses on how to discern false information. It will reach out to mature adults and seniors with a short online instructional video that is easy to understand. Part of its resource package includes tip sheets to reinforce learning in both English and mother-tongue languages. It will also introduce a social media campaign to educate users to identify fake news in a fun way, through games, contests and quizzes.
26 Through this effort, MLC helps different groups of Singaporeans relate intuitively to the resources, and share them with their friends and family. The MLC will adopt a similar customised approach for its 2019 Better Internet Campaign.
27 Besides developing an information literate population, the Select Committee recommended that Singapore develop trusted fact-checking initiatives. This is to complement the suite of other measures that we are considering and implementing. We are studying this closely in order to decide what precise form such a fact-checking entity could take in Singapore. MCI and IMDA are already consulting with various stakeholders, and we will continue to gather feedback and ideas before coming to a view on what is the best way forward in this regard.
28 At the same time, ground-up and community fact-checking initiatives also play an important role. For instance, the 2017 “Fake News Must Die” hackathon generated many creative and valuable ideas. The winning team’s proposal, of creating a platform where individuals collaborate to check the authenticity of articles, is now being incubated to develop into a sustainable community programme.
Greater Collaboration between Government Agencies
29 I had said earlier that the battle against DOFs is a whole-of-society effort. Today, I am also glad to announce to you, and share with all Singaporeans, that MCI, together with NLB, IMDA and CSA, will bring all efforts to build information and media literacy among Singaporeans into one national framework.
30 The aim of this framework is to enhance the digital literacy of all citizens, so that everyone can use digital technology and social media responsibly and safely. Specifically, it seeks to align and strengthen public education efforts by providing a set of content guidelines to public agencies and other groups running digital literacy programmes. It will be launched in the first half of 2019, and we look forward to sharing more details with you then.
We are all in this together
31 A lot of work is being done by the government agencies, community organisations, and various groups in our community in order to bring Singaporeans together in the fight against DOFs. But to succeed in this effort, every one of us, each citizen must do his or her part.
32 So I want to invite all Singaporeans to contribute actively to this national effort, to encourage your friends and family to develop their information and media literacy skills. One example I want to cite is 14-year old CHIJ Katong Convent student Catherine Danadjaja, who shared with us that her parents sometimes sent her pseudo-scientific articles from unreliable sources. After attending a workshop on fact-checking common online scams at MLC’s N.E.Mation Immersion Visit to IMDA in September, Catherine said she will now remind her parents to check the sources of articles before disseminating them, and especially before sending them to her.
33 Catherine’s story, and also more broadly, what you are doing today in events like this, are very good examples of how digital natives and our youth, can help other segments of society migrate effectively to the digital sphere, with confidence in using digital technologies, and the ability to discern falsehoods.
34 I want to congratulate ITE College East and their Media Smart Club Ambassadors, who have taken the initiative to train themselves in media literacy, communications and leadership so that they can reach out to more people in more places.
35 Like our parks, our playgrounds and our libraries, the Internet and social media are really valuable commons, Ensuring the responsible use of the commons is a shared responsibility. So, all stakeholders – students, educators and educational institutions; volunteers and people sector organisations; public officials and government agencies; and each and every citizen - we must all step up and do our part to ensure a safe and reliable Internet and social media that we can all use to interact, to work, to socialise and to enjoy. The Government looks forward to working closely with all Singaporeans in this important endeavor.
36 Thank you very much for inviting me.