SINGAPORE: More than 70 per cent of Singapore residents surveyed in a REACH poll have come across online news that they thought were "not fully accurate", according to findings released by the Government's feedback unit on Monday (Mar 26).
REACH conducted two polls - one in May last year and one in February this year - to better understand public attitudes towards false information.
Respondents were randomly selected Singapore residents aged 15 and above, with the sample weighted by gender and age to ensure representation of the national population, said REACH. The May survey had a sample size of 1,617 while the February survey had a sample size of 887.
In the poll, those surveyed were asked: "How often do you come across online news that you think are not fully accurate?"
The majority - 77 per cent - said they came across these at least occasionally. Half of those who did encounter fake news said these were sent to them via WhatsApp, and 46 per cent said they saw these on Facebook.
Of those who came across fake news, about four in 10 said they had encountered such news related to Singapore in the past year, said REACH.
Mainstream television, newspapers and radio were the main sources of news and current events for respondents, said REACH, however it added that 66 per cent also said they accessed news and current events through "at least some form of online platform".
ONLY 1 IN 3 THINK MOST SINGAPOREANS CAN RECOGNISE FAKE NEWS
Those surveyed were also asked whether they agreed with the statement: "I think most Singaporeans would be able to recognise fake news."
Only one in three either agreed or strongly agreed that most Singaporeans would be able to do so, with the remaining two-thirds disagreeing or responding with "neutral" or "not sure".
In addition, only half of the respondents were confident of their own ability to recognise fake news.
Eight in 10 were concerned about individuals or companies making money from deliberately putting out fake news.
The majority - 80 per cent - supported strengthening laws to "better deal with the spread of false information", with more than 90 per cent saying they thought there should be more effective laws to require those who publish fake news to remove or correct it.
When asked whether people who deliberately put out fake news should be prosecuted if their actions have serious consequences, more than 90 per cent of respondents said yes.
In its media release announcing the survey's findings, REACH said that the survey's responses pointed to a need to do more to tackle fake news.
"The strong support for laws to be strengthened and for malicious action to be prosecuted suggests that more needs to be done in this regard," it said.
REACH chairman Sam Tan, who is also Minister of State for Manpower, Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister's Office, said that the ease with which fake news can be propagated is a serious challenge.
"The prevalence of fake news and the ease with which it can propagate online presents a serious challenge to our society, not least because it can strain our social fabric and have real-life consequences in some cases," he said in the REACH media release.
"Singaporeans are aware of the danger and understand that more needs to be done to tackle the issue, both in terms of regulation and education."
The findings come amid a series of public hearings for the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, which began its hearings earlier this month.
The hearings have seen heated exchanges between committee members and those being questioned, with a Facebook representative last week telling Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam that the social media giant had a "moral obligation" to inform users earlier about the breach in its policies involving political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
Senior editors from Mediacorp and Singapore Press Holdings also advocated fact-checking as a countermeasure against the trend of fake news online, while telcos Singtel and StarHub said they opposed imposing new laws on network service providers but supported more legislation for tech companies like Facebook and Twitter.