“It’s easy to make money … but you have to have your man in power first”, said Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower at the heart of the Cambridge Analytica disaster.
In case you haven’t heard; Cambridge Analytica is the company that exploited Facebook to harvest the personal data (including voting preferences) for the purposes of driving election wins around the world.
Wylie revealed that the main purpose of Cambridge Analytica, SCL and other linked companies, was not merely to win elections, but to use their role in those elections to “capture” governments and then use those contacts to change laws and regulations for the benefit of other companies.
“It is what modern day colonialism looks like,” he told the British Parliament.
He said their involvement could have swung the referendum for the Leave campaign that led to Brexit. “I think it is completely reasonable to say that there could’ve been a different outcome in the [EU referendum] had there not been, in my view, cheating.”
From fake news to abuse of data models, Facebook had been under the spotlight for their inaction to control their medium. They have repeatedly said that they would not be “arbiters of truth”, but that is an extremely lazy way to manage online discourse. There is no incentive for them to remove any material at all, in fact it is quite the opposite. The more people get on Facebook to complain and/or clarify false news, the better it is for their medium.
Facebook, and all other social media channels actually thrive on the existence of fake news.
It is actually quite naive to think that laws are not needed to reign in the effect of fake news and the likes of Cambridge Analytica. The people that oppose control and legislation to fake news frequently say that governments are prone to abuse the law for evil, but this logic is based merely on speculation and unsound hypothesis. If the Singapore government had wanted to restrict your access to dissenting influence, we’d have had Chinese style internet by now. It would have been too easy.
Rather, Singaporeans have had access to a rainbow of news and opinion mediums. The opposition is allowed to speak freely, share their ideas , invite you to their events and raise money through both on and offline mediums. Maybe you have given some money to Roy Ngerng, Amos Yee or Han Hui Hui?
What is the opposite of an uncontrolled news environment then? Some say that we should trust that people are intelligent enough to go and check the authenticity of the news on their own, but to disprove this, look no further than your family chat group. How many times have you seen hoaxes and false information being shared? People love to believe lies and share things that conform to their own bias. People just don’t want to check for authenticity.
“But we can’t have the government be the arbiter of truth”! Good news; they don’t have to be. Truth is its own arbiter. 1+1=3 is fake news. The sun rising from the West is fake news. It just needs to pass a very simple test of “is this true or false”, that’s it. Everything from the States Times Review; it is all fake. It does not mean we cannot scrutinise our public bodies, it just means that we cannot pass around false information. This is consistent with laws on defamation, it is not hard to decide if something is fake or not.
If the Government had indeed abused their powers, then you’ll have much more to worry about than mere censorship. When that day comes, the people will know what to do.
It is greater danger today that we have panic sparked off by fake news, of foreign organisations wanting a stake in our country and of technological advancements that make it easier to fake anything. We need this control and we need it with urgency.