Motion Speech by Minister for Law, K Shanmugam, to Appoint Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods
1. Beg to move the motion standing in my name on the Order Paper for today: for Parliament to appoint a Select Committee, to examine and report on deliberate online falsehoods.
2. Sir, the deliberate spread of online falsehoods today is a serious problem around the world.
You see the details in the Green Paper that has been filed.
3. It gives a framework for the Government’s reasons for bringing this Motion.
II. SERIOUS THREATS POSED TO SINGAPORE
4. Countries across the world have been the subject of organised, deliberate disinformation campaigns.
Conducted both by state actors, targeted at destabilising other countries, and also non-state actors.
They spread the falsehoods deliberately to both interfere with the democratic processes, within countries, and to also destabilise and undermine institutions, within a specific country.
5. Most Members, if not all, will have come across these examples reported almost on a daily basis in the media.
And the Green Paper sets out in a summary some of the more serious ones.
A) Why Singapore is highly susceptible
6. Why are we concerned? Because we are highly susceptible, and let me share three reasons.
7. First, the very high internet penetration in Singapore.
More than 91% of Singaporean households have internet access.
So it is easy to attack and spread falsehoods in Singapore. We have seen it happening.
8. Second, our diversity – as a multi-racial, multi-religious society. That makes it easy to exploit the fault-lines through falsehoods.
You get completely fabricated stories spreading.
For example, June of last year – that cat and dog meat were mixed into a marinade of satay in a Geylang bazaar.
That’s a relatively minor example though it can make a lot of people very angry.
But you have more serious examples from other countries.
You see some of them in the Green Paper.
People can and have targeted specific sections of populations.
They can target specific sections of our population – using falsehoods based on race, religion.
9. Third, our international position, both in this region and internationally, makes us an attractive target.
We are a key strategic node; a key player in ASEAN.
We are a trade hub, commercial hub, financial hub, for this entire region.
What we say on regional issues, international issues carries weight.
So if we can be influenced and swayed, then foreign interests can be advanced through us.
10. We have been the subject of foreign interference in the past. The Green Paper again sets those out. Those are the obvious, known examples.
For example, a Malaysian politician financing a newspaper in Singapore which campaigns against National Service.
You can’t get a more obvious example.
Of course, technology has added a completely new dimension.
Minister Yaacob will touch on the points relating to technology and how it has completely changed the landscape.
B) What can this do?
11. Wide spreading of falsehoods can drown out the facts; can cause people to be disillusioned; can be manipulated to create rifts, and damage social cohesion.
So the people who shout loudest and shout falsehoods, are those who will get hurt.
Falsehoods, because they tend to be focused on playing to people’s feelings and getting them to be angry, by putting forward points which are completely fabricated.
12. A very senior official in Sweden is reported by BBC to have said and this was reported last week. Disinformation, as a tool, as a campaign, in context of Sweden, has had effect.
It “affect[s] [Sweden’s] fundamental values – freedom of speech, democracy and individual rights.”
13. We are no different from these other societies which have been targeted and affected.
No reason to believe that we are immune.
14. Ultimately – if left unchecked, such deliberate spread of online falsehoods can undermine trust in the country, in its institutions, in democracy, and affect social cohesion.
(i) WHY WE ARE APPOINTING A SELECT COMMITTEE
15. So – Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, I’m asking Parliament to appoint a Select Committee,
to examine and report on:
(1) the causes, and consequences of Deliberate Online Falsehoods; and
(2) the countermeasures that will be required to prevent and combat them in Singapore.
16. Government has been studying this problem for a while.
17. Select Committee can study the issue in-depth with a smaller group of MPs, and then present a report to Parliament.
It will be open to the Select Committee to decide whether to hold public hearings, whether to hear from witnesses.
I think it would be useful, to do so.
18. The process will allow for a formal dialogue with the selected groups.
19. The Composition of the Select Committee – we suggest - a default position is for 10 members:
9 Government MPs, and 1 MP from the Opposition bench.
But we propose replacing 1 of the Government MP with a NMP, to have more diversity.
So we will have:
8 Government MPs, 1 Opposition MP and 1 NMP.
20. Terms of Reference have been broadly framed – intentionally - so the Select Committee will have to consider relevant views, options.
21. Sir, I ask that Select Committee be appointed, to:
- examine this problem thoroughly;
- consult as widely as possible; and
- come up with countermeasures on how we can protect Singapore against this threat.
Mr Deputy Speaker Sir, I beg to move.