Motion Speech by Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, to Appoint Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods
10 JAN 2018
10 Jan 2018 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
- Beg to move the motion standing in my name on the Order Paper for today: for Parliament to appoint a Select Committee, to examine and report on deliberate online falsehoods.
- Sir, the deliberate spread of online falsehoods today is a serious problem around the world.
- You see the details in the Green Paper that has been filed.
- It gives a framework for the Government’s reasons for bringing this Motion.
- SERIOUS THREATS POSED TO SINGAPORE
- Countries across the world have been the subject of organised, deliberate disinformation campaigns.
- Conducted both by state actors, targeted at destabilising other countries, and also non-state actors.
- They spread the falsehoods deliberately to both interfere with the democratic processes, within countries, and to also destabilise and undermine institutions, within a specific country.
- Most Members, if not all, will have come across these examples reported almost on a daily basis in the media.
- And the Green Paper sets out in a summary some of the more serious ones.
- Why Singapore is highly susceptible
- Why are we concerned? Because we are highly susceptible, and let me share three reasons.
- First, the very high internet penetration in Singapore.
- More than 91% of Singaporean households have internet access.
- So it is easy to attack and spread falsehoods in Singapore. We have seen it happening.
- Second, our diversity – as a multi-racial, multi-religious society. That makes it easy to exploit the fault-lines through falsehoods.
- You get completely fabricated stories spreading.
- For example, June of last year – that cat and dog meat were mixed into a marinade of satay in a Geylang bazaar.
- That’s a relatively minor example though it can make a lot of people very angry.
- But you have more serious examples from other countries.
- You see some of them in the Green Paper.
- People can and have targeted specific sections of populations.
- They can target specific sections of our population – using falsehoods based on race, religion.
- Third, our international position, both in this region and internationally, makes us an attractive target.
- We are a key strategic node; a key player in ASEAN.
- We are a trade hub, commercial hub, financial hub, for this entire region.
- What we say on regional issues, international issues carries weight.
- So if we can be influenced and swayed, then foreign interests can be advanced through us.
- We have been the subject of foreign interference in the past. The Green Paper again sets those out. Those are the obvious, known examples.
- For example, a Malaysian politician financing a newspaper in Singapore which campaigns against National Service.
- You can’t get a more obvious example.
- Of course, technology has added a completely new dimension.
- Minister Yaacob will touch on the points relating to technology and how it has completely changed the landscape.
- What can this do?
- Wide spreading of falsehoods can drown out the facts; can cause people to be disillusioned; can be manipulated to create rifts, and damage social cohesion.
- So the people who shout loudest and shout falsehoods, are those who will get hurt.
- Falsehoods, because they tend to be focused on playing to people’s feelings and getting them to be angry, by putting forward points which are completely fabricated.
- A very senior official in Sweden is reported by BBC to have said and this was reported last week. Disinformation, as a tool, as a campaign, in context of Sweden, has had effect.
- It “affect[s] [Sweden’s] fundamental values – freedom of speech, democracy and individual rights.”
- We are no different from these other societies which have been targeted and affected.
- No reason to believe that we are immune.
- Ultimately – if left unchecked, such deliberate spread of online falsehoods can undermine trust in the country, in its institutions, in democracy, and affect social cohesion.
- WHY WE ARE APPOINTING A SELECT COMMITTEE
- So – Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, I’m asking Parliament to appoint a Select Committee,
to examine and report on:
- the causes, and consequences of Deliberate Online Falsehoods; and
- the countermeasures that will be required to prevent and combat them in Singapore.
- Government has been studying this problem for a while.
- Select Committee can study the issue in-depth with a smaller group of MPs, and then present a report to Parliament.
- It will be open to the Select Committee to decide whether to hold public hearings, whether to hear from witnesses.
- I think it would be useful, to do so.
- The process will allow for a formal dialogue with the selected groups.
- The Composition of the Select Committee – we suggest - a default position is for 10 members:
- 9 Government MPs, and 1 MP from the Opposition bench.
- But we propose replacing 1 of the Government MP with a NMP, to have more diversity.
- So we will have:
8 Government MPs, 1 Opposition MP and 1 NMP.
- Terms of Reference have been broadly framed – intentionally - so the Select Committee will have to consider relevant views, options.
- Sir, I ask that Select Committee be appointed, to:
- examine this problem thoroughly;
- consult as widely as possible; and
- come up with countermeasures on how we can protect Singapore against this threat.
Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, I beg to move.
Last updated on 10 Jan 2018