Singapore

Laws and global cooperation needed to fight fake news

Experts call for cooperation between smartphone companies, social media platforms and governments

Fake Facebook accounts of at least 13 People's Action Party MPs surfaced last month, but were shut down by the social media company before anything sinister could take place.

Two experts who track the issue of fake news warn that such accounts and news will not only increase but could also become harder to spot.

That is why they welcome the Government's announcement that it is looking into how to deal with the problem.

Besides calling for new laws, Latvian academic Janis Berzins and digital management consultant Ryan Lim said commercial entities - such as smartphone companies and social media platforms - must cooperate with governments to clamp down on fake news.

The two men took part in a closed-door dialogue last week with Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on building resilience in a post-truth era. The event was organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Fake news reports have already been flagged for influencing Britain's referendum to leave the European Union and the American presidential elections last year.

Mr Lim, QED Consulting's founding partner, and Dr Berzins are concerned about the subtle but insidious effects fake news has on a population's psyche and their trust in major institutions like the government.

For example, in Germany, there were false claims of a German girl being raped last year by asylum seekers - reports that appear to target Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policy for refugees.

Dr Berzins, director of the Centre for Security and Strategic Research at the National Defence Academy of Latvia, said his country is facing an onslaught of "systemic disinformation" from Russian sources.

He warns that fake news is the new frontier of military operations: "The best army is the one that wins without going to the fight. So you spread misinformation, dilute nationalist sentiments, debase the trust of the citizens - whatever it takes to break the social contract between people."

Laws are needed to halt the spread of such falsehoods, he said, citing a landmark Bill by German legislators which, if passed, will compel social media outlets to quickly remove fake news which incite hate or face fines of up to euro 50 million (S$74 million).

German officials had provided data showing Facebook "rapidly deleted" just 39 per cent of the criminal content it was notified about, while Twitter acted quickly to delete only 1 per cent of posts cited in user complaints.

Another way governments could combat fake news more effectively is by collaborating with friendly states.

Mr Lim suggests friendly nations form some sort of compact to take action against those residing in one country but are disseminating fake news about another.

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