SINGAPORE: The Select Committee set up to look into the problem of deliberate online falsehoods has suggested that an expanded, broad-based curriculum for schools be implemented, as part of a national framework to coordinate and guide public education initiatives to ensure that people are well-informed and are able to discern truth from falsehood.
In its report released on Thursday (Sep 20), the committee noted that public education on media and digital literacy, as well as critical thinking, have an essential role to play in strengthening “individual defences against deliberate online falsehoods”.
“This is a necessary endeavour, and is one long-term solution against deliberate online falsehoods,” it said.
Elaborating on these, committee member and MP Rahayu Mahzam said at Thursday's media briefing that the recommendation is for existing efforts already in place to be reviewed to ensure these are effective in light of new developments in digital technology.
“We must make sure that our efforts in public education are informed by these developing trends,” Mdm Rahayu said.
The committee explained that a broad-based education must aim to equip people with the skills to assess the veracity and credibility of information and sources. Citing findings from a 2018 Reuters Institute Digital News Report which surveyed respondents from 18 developed and English-speaking countries, the committee noted that people may be lacking in such skills.
Hence, it said that the broad-based school curriculum should not only impart critical thinking, but also include a specific component on the motivations and agendas of disinformation agents, as well as their techniques and strategies.
“This will be useful in giving understanding to why people (spread falsehoods),” Mdm Rahayu explained.
It should also include moral and civic education, to foster active and constructive public discourse and responsible online behaviour.
In its report, the committee added that the national framework would ensure that public education efforts have the necessary scope and scale.
It should also incorporate another framework of desired skills and outcomes, to guide public education efforts in building information and media literacy among Singaporeans, and coordinate ministry actions to ensure coverage of all segments of society.
The national framework is one of 22 recommendations the 10-member committee made to address the problem of deliberate online falsehoods. The committee, which was first set up in January and chaired by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Charles Chong, received 170 written representations and heard oral evidence from 65 individuals and organisations over the course of eight days in March.
Another recommendation the committee made is for the Government to consider encouraging and providing support for ground-up campaigns or initiatives for public education to enhance their effectiveness.
SUPPORTING QUALITY JOURNALISM AN “ESSENTIAL TOOL” IN NURTURING AN INFORMED PUBLIC
The committee also stressed the importance of supporting quality journalism, describing it as an “essential tool” in nurturing an informed public.
It explained that quality journalism helps prevent otherwise credible news sources from becoming – whether intentionally or not – agents in amplifying deliberate online falsehoods. It also provides an option for those who might otherwise turn to questionable online platforms for news.
To that end, it made a number of recommendations to support quality journalism. For example, it proposed that news organisations, technology companies and institutes of higher learning consider ways to ramp up the training of journalists of all backgrounds, especially in techniques for ensuring accuracy.
It said the mainstream media and alternative news platforms should hold themselves to the same professional standards of journalism, ensuring there is fairness, accuracy and integrity of reporting.
The committee called for greater dialogue between Government and news platforms, including those that solely operate online.
The committee also recommended that media organisations and partners from other industries consider setting up a fact-checking coalition in Singapore, to debunk falsehoods “swiftly and credibly”.
“Such a coalition could pull together valuable resources from otherwise competing media organisations, and tap on the expertise of partners from different industries to fact-check the falsehoods quickly and accurately,” it said. “The involvement of different media organisations can help increase the coalition’s credibility and its success rate in debunking falsehoods.”
As to whether there is a role that the Government can play in supporting the initiative, the committee said there are differing views and they need to be further considered.