Online falsehoods: Life goes on for the rest of us

I was really curious about what people thought of the proposed fake news laws. My writer and journalists friends are clearly enraged. So are the liberals, the dissents and the reformists. 

But do Singaporeans care? 

I came across the work of a reputable survey company and they happen to have just the answer for me. (I won’t name them, cause it breaches their terms and conditions of use and I may lose my polling rights! But their name rhymes with “Miss You”. Hint hint.)

The following are the results of over four thousands respondents:

What’s going on here? Are people really not interested about the freedom of speech?

Problem is real: both pesky and dangerous

Influencing politics and calling people to action are not in themselves bad things, but when large groups of people who have been lied to, deceived and act based on the fabrications of miscreants, then we have a problem. 

People don’t like to be lied to and there is just so much of this taking place on the internet.

For a fast example, look no further than the founder of (now defunct) fake news group “The States Times Review”, Alex Tan. 

His modus operandi works like this:

  • Seek mainstream media for an ordinary article
  • Look for a quote that contains verbal illustrations, figure of speech, similes or metaphors e.g. “The move from streaming to subject banding is like an ice-cream; different flavours on one cone”
  • Spin a headline based on that isolated quote, e.g. “Ong Ye Kung says education is easy like ice-cream”

It isn’t that Alex is good at what he does, but rather his viewership is not of the habit of actually reading an article. Firstly, people who share his work assume his site is related to The Straits Times. 

Furthermore, anyone who has actually read his work would easily figure out the inconsistencies, irregularities and plain old fishiness of his writing. 

But yet, people SHARE. And the reason why people share stuff from The States Times is enough reason to support measures to curtail fake news.

“What is freedom of speech? Can eat or not?” 

Singaporeans are a practical bunch. If you tell them that withdrawal of CPF is extended from 65 to 70 (which is fake news by the way), it goes extremely viral. People talk about it. People get up in arms about it.

When you ask if they’ve heard of proposed fake news laws in Parliament, they’ll give a nervous laugh, make some passing comment about how “Singapore is like that one lah” before moving on to the next topic… because they haven’t heard about the news and they don’t really have an opinion on it.

The freedom of speech is a distant star. One so far that its light hasn’t yet reached the eyes of a Singaporean. It doesn’t affect us because it isn’t exactly relevant in our society. 

It isn’t going to stop the supermarket aunty from complaining about inflation. 

It isn’t going to stop the taxi driver from bitching about ERP and traffic jams. 

It certainly isn’t going to stop anyone from supporting their opposition of choice and sharing their brand of criticism. 

Freedom of speech doesn’t pay the bills and no, definitely cannot eat one. And until the day comes that it does, chances are it is a concept that will remain relatively alien on Singaporean minds.

Aren’t you concerned that a Minister can decide what is fake or not? 

“Actually, if you look at many other statutory laws, it almost always have a clause that says the Minister will have the final say or over riding authority”, said James Ching, a corporate lawyer. “This should not be surprising”.

It is more a method of efficacy. No argument can go on forever and especially with something like fake news, you have to have an authority to put the matter to rest once and for all. 

All over the world, journalists, academics, politicians and tech companies cannot decide what on earth fake news is. But whilst the intellectual squabble goes on, society needs a solution right now. 

Ministers, and the government in general, are making decisions on many areas of our lives. That’s what we elected them for. 

If the administration uses its powers granted to them irresponsibly, they will get voted out. Or worse, we become a country that is ungovernable, which really is the PAP’s biggest nightmare. 

Meanwhile, regardless of whether or not you have heard about the fake news bill, life goes on…which is a useful thing because there is an article I want to write and it will be about how bad the traffic congestion is from Yishun to Shenton Way and how expensive the damn ERP is. KNN, what this stupid LTA think they’re doing? 

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