Fact Check Singapore: What do we know about the fake news watchdog in the spotlight?

Fact Check Singapore: What do we know about the fake news watchdog in the spotlight?

FCS screenshot
Fact Check Singapore's Facebook page was created in December 2016 and currently has more than 1,000 followers. (Screengrab)

SINGAPORE: A Facebook page which purports to fact check “misleading information on social media” has refused to identify its page administrators despite public calls to do so.

This comes after the site had “fact checked” the academic credentials of historian Thum Ping Tjin, a point which also came up during the six-hour hearing at last week’s Select Committee on Deliberate Falsehoods hearing.

So what is Fact Check Singapore? Channel NewsAsia spoke with “Joseph” who is the page’s main administrator via Facebook to find out more.

WHAT IS FACT CHECK SINGAPORE?

Fact Check Singapore was set up in December 2016 by “Joseph”. In an old Facebook post published when FCS was launched, FCS said that “it aims to be a non-partisan consumer advocate for Singaporean voters”.

It added that its mission is to “reduce the level of deception and confusion in Singapore politics”.

“Joseph” told Channel NewsAsia that he set up the Facebook page and its associated blog following news about the miscarriage of former The Real Singapore (TRS) editor Ai Takagi.

"My mother told me that Ai Takagi had a miscarriage while in prison. As I had been following the case, I knew that Ai had suffered the miscarriage before being incarcerated," he said. 

The site is currently run by “Joseph” with the help of two other volunteers.

"Joseph" also has previous experience blogging on news related to opposition parties on a blog titled "WP of Singapore". 

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT FCS?

"Joseph" has acknowledged that online information that he used to run a political blog and was formerly a Workers' Party (WP) supporter is correct.

FCS blog author profile
An author profile, screencapped from January, shows that "Joseph" used to run another blog that ran stories on the opposition parties in Singapore. The latest story published on "WP of Singapore" was published in July last year. (Screengrab)

His author introduction, now no longer available online, read that the issue of "AHPETC" had opened his eyes to "the truth". 

"I now help others to see the WP for what they truly are," he wrote.

AHPETC refers to the former Workers' Party-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, which had been the subject of protracted questions about the management of its finances. 

AHPETC became AHTC after the Workers Party lost the Punggol East seat in the 2015 General Election. In February, AHTC said it had resolved its auditing issues.

"I realised that fake news was bigger than just the Workers' Party and hence I focused on FCS. I am sure opposition supporters will now claim that I am pro-Government which I am clear I am not. But I guess that is expected. We all have a past," he told Channel NewsAsia.

"Joseph" says he has no affiliation with any political party.

WHY WAS IT IN THE NEWS?

The spotlight has fallen on FCS after it posted two infographics following historian Thum Ping Tjin’s appearance on the final day of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods last week.

The infographic, which focused on Dr Thum’s academic position at Oxford University, was taken down because administrators said its wording could be "misconstrued" as being biased after Dr Thum explained his research.

A second infographic was then put up, although FCS reiterated that the initial post was not wrong. 

Fact Check Singapore collage
When Fact Check Singapore spots misleading information online, it "fact checks" against sources such as newspaper articles, the Hansard and government websites. After that, it creates a graphic that is "appealing so that people will look at it". (Screengrab)

"Joseph" said that FCS “essentially relied on the video of the exchange between Minister Shanmugam and Dr Thum posted online” to undertake its fact checking.

The website then did research on "the difference between a visiting research fellow and a research fellow."

"It was based on our understanding that we did the fact check to highlight that Dr Thum had essentially mis-stated his credentials and that netizens should know how much weight to give his opinion,” said "Joseph".

He added that after the first infographic on Dr Thum was published, the FCS team received personal attacks that involved vulgarities and name-calling. The team then banned some users. The team also said on Facebook that they would stay anonymous for the sake of their families.


"Joseph" told Channel NewsAsia that opposition supporters in Singapore are "extremely vindictive when you say anything that is remotely supportive of the Government", and that he would not subject his family to that. 

WHAT HAVE OTHERS SAID ABOUT FCS?

Academic Cherian George and Andrew Loh, co-founder of socio-political website The Online Citizen, were among those who have asked the page to reveal its administrators. 

"Can you please identify your members? This is in the interest of transparency and credibility, in that you have declared yourselves fact checkers obviously. In order for the public to decide if you are credible fact checkers, your background and identity would help," said Mr Loh in a comment on FCS' page.

"I've just discovered this FB page (and its associated website), which presents itself as a fact checking service in the vein of many similar groups around the world - except that I cannot find any information about who runs it. I'd like to think that they are not intentionally hiding their identities, since that would violate one of the basic principles that the global fact checking movement is trying to promote: transparency," wrote Dr George, also as a comment on FCS' page.

WHY DO THEY WANT TO REMAIN ANONYMOUS?

In response to public calls for the page administrators to identify themselves, "Joseph" said that: "As for transparency, I really don't see an issue. I chose to remain anonymous and netizens know that. Netizens should therefore factor that into their assessment of how credible Fact Check Singapore is.

"In the end, fact checking is only a stop gap measure. Netizens need to do their own research to decide what they believe to be the truth," he added.

Source: CNA/fs

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