A Singaporean writer has offered that Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam’s 3-hour questioning of a local Facebook executive might just be a smokescreen.
The writer comments come as videos of the heated exchange between the Minister and Facebook’s vice-president of public policy for Asia-Pacific, Simon Milner has been making rounds online.
Milner, who had been representing the social media giant in front of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods on Thursday, found himself in a verbal tussle with the Law Minister who took his organisation to task for the recent data breach scandal that has gripped headlines.
News broke last weekend that a data firm, Cambridge Analytica, with ties to US politicians reportedly accessed information from about 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge nor authorisation.
The data harvest occurred as around 270,000 people took a personality quiz online that gave a Cambridge University professor access to their data and their Facebook friends’ data. This information, which was initially collected for academic purposes according to Facebook, was later transferred to third parties in violation of Facebook policies.
Some netizens have praised the Law Minister for pressing the Facebook representative to answer for the data breach as videos such as the one below have been circulating online:
Others, however, have felt that there is more to this “interrogation” than meets the eye.
One such voice, writer Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, noted that while some videos online seem to suggest that the government is taking a tough stance against Facebook, “There is a different interpretation: two bedfellows trying to pretend that they never made out. One side spent money on targeted political marketing, the other happily sold your data.”
Sudhir added: “Do we know this for sure? No, but it seems highly likely that the PAP and of course Gov.sg, with its numerous sponsored videos telling you how wonderful life is in Singapore, have done so. Don’t forget that the latter spends your own tax dollars in order to advertise to you. (There are of course good informational reasons for policy advertising.)”
Pointing to news that one of several hopefuls tipped to be fielded as a People’s Action Party candidate in the next General Election is a top executive at Facebook, Sudhir wrote:
“The PAP has a long history of surreptitious political marketing online, for instance the team of anonymous bloggers under politician Baey Yam Keng. There is also some indication that it is aiming to recruit Facebook executives into its ranks. In today’s world if anybody from a data-rich tech firm enters politics…that should really worry you.
“Given the PAP’s dominance here, it is easy for this to descend into a partisan comment. It shouldn’t. Singaporeans and citizens everywhere, really, should demand much more transparency from all political parties about their online, targeted, psychographic political marketing.
“Political marketing has existed since forever, but there is something different about today’s beast. In a recent piece The New Yorker says “..the ethical difference between outright electoral corruption and psychographics is largely a matter of degree.”
“So instead of admiring Shanmugam’s questions, Singaporeans should be demanding that he, Sylvia Lim, Chee Soon Juan and all our other political leaders start providing us with much more information about these activities.
“The very essence of public discourse is under threat.”
Another writer, Daniel Yap who was one of the editors at the now-defunct socio-political website The Middle Ground, seemed to echo Sudhir’s views and opined: “FB has made our world, and our politics and governance, more connected yet less transparent.”