SINGAPORE – In the cyber world, circulation of fake news can be difficult to control and patrol, leading to the spread of misinformation. Within a few days, fake facebook accounts of at least 13 People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs have surfaced last month, prompting new strategies to curb circulation of fake news on the internet.
Although these fake Facebook accounts have already been shut down, two experts believe that we will see an increase of fake accounts and fake news on the internet. Not only that, the experts also believe that authenticity of news and accounts may be even harder to tell, hence, they welcome the government to adopt new ways to ascertain the authenticity of such news and accounts.
The two experts, Janis Berzins (Latvian academic) and Ryan Lim (digital management consultant) both believe that it takes more than just calling for new laws to solve the issue. Social media platforms, smartphone companies, and various commercial entities will have to work with governments to do so.
A closed door dialogue was held between the two experts with Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam last week to discuss ways to adapt to an age where false information is rampant. The dialogue was organised by the S. Rajaratnam school of International Studies.
Disinformation and fake news have been said to contribute to Brexit and the rise of Trump as the president of the United States.
Mr Lim, QED Consulting’s founding partner, believes that fake news will eventually be difficult to tell apart from the truth as more sophisticated methods will be used to confuse the public. Even the most cyber-savvy might fall prey to such traps.
Mr Lim and Dr Berzins are concerned with the negative effects fake news will have on the people as it might break the relationship of trust the population has with the government. For instance, in Germany, false allegations were made regarding the rape of a German girl by asylum seekers. It is believed that the fake news was targeted at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s as many are unhappy about the open-door policy for refugees.
Dr Berzins, director of the Centre for Security and Strategic Research at the National Defence Academy of Latvia, is concerned with the rise of “systemic disinformation” from Russian sources.
“All the rhetoric stays in the minds of the people” he said, and warns that fake news could be a new strategic means for military operations.
“The best army is the one that wins without going to the fight,” he said, “so you spread misinformation, dilute nationalist sentiments, debase the trust of the citizens – whatever it takes to break the social contract between the people.”
He believes that laws need to be put in place to stand against false information, curing a landmark Bill by German legislators which might compel social media platforms to remove fake news that threaten harmony. Instigators may also face fines of up to €50 million (S$74 million).
Data provided by German officials show that Facebook has “rapidly deleted” just 39 per cent of culpable content it was notified about, while Twitter only deleted 1 per cent of posts cited in user complaints.
“Corporates and governments aren’t on the best of terms,” he said. “The intention isn’t to apply the fine, but to convince these guys to react faster.”
Mr Lim, on the other hand, suggests that a good way for governments to combat fake news is through working with friendly nations. He believes that friendly nations can collaborate to take action against those living in one country but spreading misinformation about another.
Mr Lim cited how the States Times Review – a sociopolitical site that operated outside of Singapore, and owned by Mr Alex Tan Zhixiang – had falsely stated that the late S R Nathan’s funeral had near-zero turnout. The article seemed to suggest that the late S R Nathan was unpopular among the people.
“The cyber world has no borders, so we need to work together to bring people to task. We can’t say it’s just one country’s problem – it’s a global issue,” said Mr Lim.
Although both experts support more measures to be put in place by the government, they also believe that people should exercise their ability to discern information for themselves responsibly, instead of mindlessly sharing everything they read online.
“There should always be some level of distrust of what we read on the Internet.” Dr Berzins said.