S’poreans naive about threats posed by fake news: Bilahari Kausikan

Fake news could actually be a vehicle for something more insidious.

Matthias Ang | September 21, 2018 @ 05:00 pm

On Sept. 20, in response to The Straits Times’ article on state-sponsored fake news operations, former Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan put out a Facebook post stating that, “Too many Singaporeans are naive about such threats”.

Using China as an example, Bilahari laid out how fake news operations could take advantage of conditions in Singapore’s society to induce social unrest.

Appealing to the sentiments of the majority

Given that Singapore has been deemed by the Select Committee on fake news to be highly susceptible to “‘slow-drip’ falsehoods”, one manner in which fake news could affect Singapore’s society was through fake news about a particular demographic that aims to raise tensions slowly and accumulate them over time.

For Bilahari, such falsehoods could also serve as a means for “Chinese influence operations [that] seek to impose a Chinese identity on multiracial Singapore” which “threatens our core social compact of multiracial meritocracy.”

A possibility would be the emergence of a Chinese supremacy of sorts:

They appeal to ethnic pride which is all too often only a tiny step away from ethnic chauvinism. This can strain social cohesion in a way western influence operations do not.”

Western influence operations have limited appeal

In contrast, western influence operations do not gain much traction.

With a nod to the case of American diplomat E. Mason Hendrickson in 1988, Bilahari noted that western influence operations have tended towards “seek[ing] to impose a western, liberal democratic political identity on Singapore.”

An American diplomat once tried to influence the 1988 Singapore General Election

However, such operations have rarely succeeded because such a style of politics “has limited attraction to the majority.”

Bilahari concludes towards the end of his post that the “best defense is an educated public.”

Here is his post in full:

“Too many Singaporeans are naive about such threats. This is a fundamental national security issue.

When I recently wrote about Chinese influence operations the response was often angry and often echoed the line taken by the Chinese Embassy, in effect ‘everyone does it’.

That’s somewhat akin to saying since many people beat their wives, wife-beating is OK.

In any case, ‘everyone does it’ is true but trite.

We have expelled an American diplomat for trying to influence our domestic politics. But Chinese influence operations are more dangerous in a fundamental — indeed, existential — way.

American, or more generally, western influence operations, seek to impose a western, liberal democratic political identity on Singapore. This has limited attraction to the majority.

Chinese influence operations seek to impose a Chinese identity on multiracial Singapore and thus threatens our core social compact of multiracial meritocracy.

They appeal to ethnic pride which is all too often only a tiny step away from ethnic chauvinism. This can strain social cohesion in a way western influence operations do not.

The Select Committee’s report delicately hinted at this when it said that Singapore’s ‘societal conditions’ make us vulnerable to ‘slow drip’ falsehoods.

Of course, we must be alert to western influence operations as well. But we should also understand the main threat.

The best defense is an educated public. So spread the word.”

Here’s what else you need to know about the Select Committee on Fake News:

Here are the 22 recommendations by S’pore “Fake News” Committee to combat falsehoods online

Select Committee’s 3 main reasons why S’pore needs new laws against “fake news”

Govt accepts “Fake News” committee’s 22 “comprehensive & insightful” recommendations

Top image collage from Singapore Summit

 

About Matthias Ang

Matthias is that annoying guy whose laughter overshadows the joke.

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