SINGAPORE – Citing the false rumour of child kidnapping here, as well as a recent incident of a teenager who was wrongly targeted by netizens, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Yaacob Ibrahim felt that Singaporeans must be aware of the possible downsides of the Internet.
As social media habits take hold, Singaporeans have to be wary of the ease and speed at which such rumours, distortions and hoaxes spread within a very short time, he said.
“Out of habit or even genuine concern, some may pass on the rumour without verifying, leading to unnecessary distress or panic. The bite-sized nature of such media also means that lines get taken out of context,” said Dr Yaacob yesterday at a Singapore Press Club talk, themed “Traditional and Online Media in the New Normal”.
Site owners, moderators, teachers, parents and the Government have to work together in what it wants as a society, in dealing with such downsides of the Internet, said Dr Yaacob, who reiterated that the Government is still looking at regulating the Internet with a light touch.
He added that as legislation is not enough, users need to be educated on how to use new media, in being “discerning recipients and creators of information”.
To that end, the National Library Board, for example, is rolling out programmes that will equip students and the “broader adult population” with skills to evaluate the information they receive and the ability to use information “responsibly and ethically”.
As Singaporeans’ use of online and social media, as well as news consumption patterns increase, traditional media must also strengthen their online offerings, he said.
Even as traditional media faces competition from alternative media online, they have to exercise independent editorial judgment in their reporting, stressed Dr Yaacob.
He said Singapore’s “major media companies which have an established presence can set the right tone online”, and with “good practices of information sharing and moderation of the various online platforms”.
During a question-and-answer session, Dr Yaacob was asked about his concern over the growing divide between popular online websites, such as the Temasek Review Emeritus and the Online Citizen, and traditional media such as newspapers and broadcast media.
While asserting that the Internet should grow as a platform for serious discussion, Dr Yaacob said a site cannot be stopped “just because we disagree with it”.
He felt that the best way to go is to encourage other sites to emerge, “that can continue to offer constructive ideas and useful suggestions”.
“If there are no good online sites or platforms that offer good views, people will naturally gravitate toward those that are popular and available. So, it’s up to the online community, really” said Dr Yaacob.
“To a large extent … if there are more sites available that offer alternative views, but as long as they are constructive … based on proper analysis, there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, to disagree with the Government is not a crime, but let’s put it on a rational objective footing.
“The Government has never shied away from that and that is something we look forward to, so that the Internet community can add to the discourse.”