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Singapore: Information Integrity in the Digital Age

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In a recent keynote address, Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary underscored the imperative of upholding information integrity in the digital age, stressing the pressing need to address the alarming rise of misinformation and disinformation on a global scale.

Given the pervasive nature of digital technologies in modern society, the accessibility to vast amounts of information has surged dramatically. In Singapore, where over 80% of residents rely on the internet for information, and globally, where more than 60% of internet users prioritise information acquisition, the significance of digital connectivity cannot be overstated.

Despite the undeniable benefits of easy access to information facilitated by digital platforms, it is imperative to acknowledge that not all information disseminated through these channels is accurate or trustworthy.

Online platforms, particularly social media, have emerged as breeding grounds for the rapid dissemination of falsehoods, often leading to the viral spread of misinformation before it can be effectively countered.

Recent technological advancements, such as Generative AI, have further compounded the problem by enabling the production of high-quality fake content like deepfakes that are hyper-realistic and difficult to distinguish from genuine content.

Highlighting his recent participation in the AI Safety Summit and the AI Global Forum in Seoul, Korea, Minister Puthucheary underscored governments’ concerns regarding the implications of AI-driven technologies on safety and access to sensitive information in online transactions. He emphasised the importance of convening such gatherings to share best practices and develop norms and standards across jurisdictions.

Given Singapore’s status as a small, diverse society encompassing multiple racial and religious backgrounds, it faces heightened susceptibility to the perils of online falsehoods, which have the potential to exacerbate societal divisions and foster polarisation. Moreover, the capacity for growth and prosperity hinges significantly on openness to embracing ideas disseminated through online platforms.

Consequently, disconnecting from the global digital economy is not a viable option, especially considering the proactive digital strategies pursued by other nations. It is therefore imperative to cultivate trust within communities towards the various services, products, and platforms that people interact with, thereby safeguarding the integrity of factual information and upholding societal cohesion and trust.

In Singapore, a comprehensive, “whole-of-society”, approach is taken to combat misinformation and disinformation. In this strategy, four key areas or “planks” are prioritised. These include targeted legislation, technological capabilities, public education, and leveraging partnerships in the information ecosystem.

In 2019, Singapore implemented the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), providing the government with the authority to issue Correction Directions to combat online falsehoods. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, POFMA played a pivotal role in dispelling misinformation, with approximately 55% of cases addressing falsehoods related to COVID-19, spanning from vaccine efficacy to treatment methods.

The efficacy of this approach is not measured by the sheer quantity of debunked falsehoods or correction notices. Instead, its true value lies in nurturing enduring trust in the strategies employed and the channels used to disseminate information. It prioritises trust-building over volumes of notices and ensures the dissemination of accurate information.

Investments in technological capabilities, such as the recently launched Centre for Advanced Technologies in Online Safety (CATOS), enhance Singapore’s capacity to monitor and address online harms like discrimination and hate speech.

Public education initiatives like the S.U.R.E programme and the Digital Skills for Life (DSL) framework equip individuals with skills to discern and fact-check online content. Additionally, partnerships with local news media platforms and fact-checkers play a crucial role in combating misinformation and disinformation effectively.

Minster Puthucheary reiterates the critical importance of safeguarding the infrastructure of fact in the face of growing challenges posed by misinformation and disinformation. Collaborative endeavours among stakeholders are essential to cultivate a society that is better informed and resilient.

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