Smear campaign against Dr Thum waged through anonymous emails to academics

Academics, who have signed an open letter to show support of a Singaporean historian, are said to have been spammed with emails asking them to withdraw their support from the letter.

Dr Thum Ping Tjin, a historian, is alleged in the open letter signed by 265 academics, to have been subjected to a six hour interrogation by the Minister of Law and Home Affairs, K Shanmugam.

The emails are written in the context that the academics are made use by the historian and there is nothing academic about his work. The emails do not seem to be a mass-sent email as the screenshots of emails show that they are sent from different email addresses and at different timing.

They also made reference to different news reports of the rebuttal issued by Chairman of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods against the open letter.

Nicholas Harrigan, one of the academics who signed on the open letter responded to media queries saying,  “I received this email from the proton address, yes. I have not received other similar emails. Other signatories have contacted me privately saying they have got similar emails.”

He noted that such spam is in itself not a major issue as it could be a keen govt supporter who on his or her own initiative got together emails of signatories and sent out messages. Many journalists have compiled the same list and we have received many emails from Singaporean journalists about the letter.

But he pointed out that the only difference is that this email was anonymous, “but that isn’t a major issue, per se. The potential problem is if this is not just the act of a genuine individual or group, but rather if it is what is known in marketing literature as Astroturfing – the creation of fake grassroots movements or campaigns by powerful forces such as states, corporations or political parties.”

“Astroturfing can be a powerful weapon in the hands of elites, using funded supporters with strong elite backing to create the appearance of, and give weight to, populist attacks on those who publically dissent. In the case of PJ Thum, such Astroturfing seems to be in the form of pro-establishment social media accounts.”

Another academic also wrote on Facebook, “It also says a lot when we have the conviction to put our names down on an open letter and we get callow and cowardly encrypted anonymous emails in return”