Could be already happening, says expert
National security expert Dr Shashi Jayakumar proposes countermeasures such as a grassroots body, "Centre of Excellence", and doing more to teach children how to spot fake news.
Dr Shashi Jayakumar of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) speaking on the second day of public hearings for the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods (Photo: MCI)
SINGAPORE: Organised fake news and disinformation campaigns could already be influencing and undermining Singaporean society, said national security expert Shashi Jayakumar on Thursday (Mar 15) in both written and oral submissions to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods.
“An aggressor could attempt to ‘peel off’ one particular ethnic group or religion, using social media and disinformation to appeal ... to deeply ingrained historical, cultural issues, setting off one group against others, or even against the Government,” he wrote. “Singapore can be a sandbox for subversion.”
Speaking on the committee’s second day of public hearings, Dr Jayakumar, who heads the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), added: “I don’t want to cast allegations or smears or be a fear-monger, but in my view, it would be a mistake to assume that this is not already happening in Singapore.
“These are advanced, persistent threats. You deploy them long in advance, before you actually need to use them.”
In his written representation, he explained how state actors could employ such techniques and tactics, using the example of Russia and its alleged manipulation of the 2016 US presidential election.
“Spreading rumours to discredit politicians (and to play up certain themes – such as negative portrayals of immigration policy) have been aimed at undermining public trust towards democracy and systematically influence populations to become less trusting of mainstream, established news networks,”
said Dr Jayakumar, who also coordinates the Future Issues and Technology programme at RSIS.
“Some researchers think they have found fake Facebook groups almost entirely populated by bots. These fake groups, convincingly operated and orchestrated but operated by bots and AI, leveraged on existing ideological filter bubbles and echo chambers, eventually attracting real fans.
“It is possible, as some researchers have posited, that many Trump fans were emboldened to declare their support for the candidate by the artificially created perception of a swell in support for him.”
He added: “There exist individual ‘consultants’ and private sector entities specialising in hacking or interfering with elections with the aim of achieving the desired election result for the client. Their
methods include smears, hacking, spoofing webpages, and sending mass emails to influence outcomes.