To date, the government has not detected a hostile information campaign directed specifically at Singapore over Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in a written reply in Parliament on May 9.
Shanmugam was responding to a question posed by Member of Parliament (MP) Alex Yam about an assessment by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) regarding disinformation campaigns over the conflict, and measures that it was taking against such efforts.
The minister further pointed out that he had given a reply to a similar parliamentary question filed on Apr. 4, by Workers' Party MP Dennis Tan.
Shanmugam: Population is being influenced by foreign news and commentaries
At that time, Shanmugam said that while the government has not detected such a campaign against Singapore, it has detected some social media accounts involved in local online discussions about the Ukraine conflict, with characteristics suggesting that they may be inauthentic accounts.
These accounts were surfaced to TikTok for its review. Following an internal investigation, the platform shared that the accounts did not appear to be of foreign origin, he added.
Shanmugam pointed out, "Separately, we have also noticed our population being influenced by news and commentaries, from foreign sources."
He further elaborated:
"Actions and misinformation could come in the form of hearsay, rumours, half-truths or misleading statements that may not be easily identifiable as such. They could appear to come from sources that seem local and/or authentic at first glance, and so are all the more insidious as they behave or are passed off as part of legitimate domestic discourse."
The minister subsequently added in his reply on May 9 on the plans to combat such misinformation:
"The government will continue with its efforts to build up a well-informed and discerning public through various public education efforts that strengthen our information and media literacy skills, so that we know how to discern the veracity of information that we encounter online."
Academics: Singaporeans "handicapped" in addressing disinformation such as Chinese propaganda
On Mar. 17, at an Academia.sg panel titled "A World Divided – International Conflicts and Contending Loyalties in Singapore", an academic posited that within Singapore, there is a certain segment of the population that is responsive to the "barrage" of nationalistic narrative from China.
According to Associate Professor Chong Ja Ian of the National University of Singapore (NUS), China's national narrative taps on anti-imperialist and anti-U.S. sentiments.
In addition, the narrative also includes an emphasis on Chinese culture and ethnic pride, which has been conflated with both the country, which is China, and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
"Some of it has to do with the constant refrain that we should be cautious of the West, that we are Asian and so this CCP claim that it represents Asia and a certain idea of pan-Asianism, that finds fertile ground with those groups."
In addition, there are also those who are sympathetic to the view that the U.S. is hypocritical.
Another group consists of people who feel they have been "very unfairly treated" by Singapore's own policies towards Chinese schools, training, and education in the past.
The rise of China therefore validates their beliefs, he added.
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Top photo by Ukraine State Emergency Service via The Kyiv Independent Twitter