Parliament Sitting on 26 July 2021

QUESTION FOR WRITTEN ANSWER


*66. Mr Alex Yam Ziming: To ask the Minister for Communications and Information with social media and digital communication platforms widely used to promote various political materials from overseas, with several addressing audiences in Singapore (a) how is the Ministry tackling this matter especially materials which can undermine trust in our public institutions and our social stability; (b) whether the Ministry tracks who are behind such propaganda; and (c) how will the Ministry remind Singaporeans to stay vigilant and not be swayed by the onslaught of propaganda.

Answer:

1. Social media and digital communications platforms have made it easy for foreign actors to propagate content to manipulate public discourse and sow discord in order to advance their own agendas. Their attempts may not be obvious or attributable, and they can therefore act with impunity. The Government takes a serious and targeted approach to online content that attempts to harm our national interest, especially materials which can undermine trust in our public institutions or affect our social stability.

2. One of our key levers to tackle such harmful online content is legislation. For example, under the Broadcasting Act, the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) has powers to direct Internet Content Providers to take down prohibited material, such as those which are objectionable on the grounds of public interest, public order, public security, national harmony, or prohibited by applicable Singapore laws. This covers, for example, material that glorifies, incites or endorses ethnic, racial or religious hatred, strife or intolerance. IMDA can also direct Internet Service Providers to block access to websites that contain such prohibited material.

3. Under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, a Minister can also issue a direction to the communicator and/or the social media platform to require a correction to be tagged to a falsehood, or for it to be taken down, where it is in the public interest to do so. A direction can also be issued to require prescribed entities to communicate a correction to all end-users. Where there is evidence of coordinated inauthentic behaviour or inauthentic accounts used to peddle falsehoods, a direction can be issued to require prescribed entities to prevent communication through these accounts.

4. The courts are one of our key public institutions. Where there are publications which are in contempt of court, the Attorney-General may, if satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so and with the leave of court, issue a non-publication direction under the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act. This can require the publisher, including Internet Content Providers, to cease publishing the matter.

5. The Government is also building capabilities and preparing legislation to be able to more effectively deter, detect and mitigate hostile information activities by foreign actors.

6. Legislation is an important lever, but given the dynamic and borderless nature of the Internet, it is not possible to block every website with undesirable content. Neither is it practical to issue correction directions on all falsehoods. The Government therefore seeks to build up a well-informed and discerning citizenry through a range of public education efforts.

7. For example, in schools, information and media literacy skills are infused into subjects like English, History, Social Studies, and Character and Citizenship Education (CCE), to help students learn how to critically evaluate online and offline sources of information. Teachers guide students to distinguish fact from opinion, apply logic and verify the authority of sources. The National Library Board’s S.U.R.E. (Source, Understand, Research, Evaluate) Programme teaches participants to be responsible producers and consumers of information. Besides the Government, the Media Literacy Council (MLC) also runs campaigns and programmes to promote information and media literacy.

8. In summary, it is not enough to rely on regulations, and we must all do our part to secure our digital spaces. It was in this spirit that the Government also launched Digital Defence as the sixth pillar of Total Defence in February 2019. As citizens, let us respond to its call to be secure, alert and responsible online.
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