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Crucial to counter misuse of social media by extremists: Heng Swee Keat

It is important for organisations such as the RRG as well the government to counter the misuse of social media by extremists, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

SINGAPORE: The current terrorism landscape lacks a clear structure and comprises self-radicalised individuals who may join terror groups or partake in civil wars such as the one ongoing in Syria, said Education Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Mr Heng was speaking at the 10th annual retreat organised by Singapore's Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) on Saturday.

The group is a voluntary organisation, and comprises Islamic scholars and teachers who counsel radicalised individuals to counter their extremist beliefs.

Mr Heng said that Singaporeans are not immune to the call to fight in Syria, which has already seen thousands of foreign fighters from 50 countries joining the battle against its President Bashar Al-Assad.

This comes after reports in March of an investigation into a Singaporean's alleged role in participating in the Syrian conflict.

Mr Heng said that radical propaganda is now put online and on social media platforms. They are, as a result, highly vulnerable to the "radical rhetoric" on social media.

"Many of our youths today accustomed to accessing news through the social media. Having grown up with social media, they are comfortable operating in that medium, and look upon it as a trusted source of timely and accurate information around the world," said Mr Heng.

Thus, he said it is important for organisations such as the RRG as well the government to counter the misuse of social media by extremists.

Agreeing to this, Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed, the co-chair of the RRG, said: "Terrorists and extremists have strategically exploited modern technology and online social forums to propagate their political agenda and influence. This is a worrying trend."

Mr Heng said the government's Inter-Ministry Cyber Wellness Steering Committee could use programmes to equip youths with critical reasoning skills for them to discern truth from propaganda while online.

He also encouraged the RRG to assert its presence online. This includes having a presence on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Dr Mohamed Ali, secretary of the RRG, said it will heed this call.

He said: "The Syrian issue is a very complex issue where religious narratives have been used by these individuals to promote that Jihad in Syria is an obligation for all Muslims. This is where the RRG has a role to play.

"And picking up from Minister Heng's speech, the RRG is planning to explore how our voices can be heard more from Facebook, for example."

Dr Mohamed Ali said the group would explore the ways in which a counter-narrative can be posted online.

The RRG will also launch its new Resource and Counselling Centre, equipped with a library and research resources, which can benefit the community through the research that comes from it.

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