Seniors requiring assistance in developing digital and media literacy can rely on digital ambassadors of the SG Digital Office (SDO), who offer such in-person support to seniors at community centres and libraries nationwide, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran on Thursday (25 Feb).
Mr Iswaran was responding to a question from Jalan Besar GRC Member of Parliament (MP), Wan Rizal Wan Zakariah on whether there are targeted plans to reach out to seniors in developing their digital and media literacy in combating deliberate online falsehoods.
Noting that seniors in Singapore continue to face challenges in navigating novel and unfamiliar digital technologies, Mr Iswaran said that the digital ambassadors’ presence on the ground “significantly increases our engagement with seniors”.
The SDO, established in May last year, has taken root in 55 community hubs at community centres and libraries islandwide, “where digital ambassadors teach seniors how to use features on their phones”, he added.
Announcing the SG Digital Office on 31 May last year, Mr Iswaran said that initially, the SDO aimed to recruit 1,000 Digital Ambassadors to help seniors go digital.
“The Digital Ambassadors will also reach out to and raise the digital skills of 100,000 seniors by March 2021, up from the current annual target of 10,000 seniors reached through one-to-one skilling efforts.
“We want to quickly include our seniors in these digital efforts, so that they can join other citizens in communicating and transacting digitally. For seniors from lower-income households who wish to learn but are unable to afford the devices, we will provide them with financial support,” said Mr Iswaran.
Touching on Dr Wan Rizal’s question on whether the influence of online falsehood differs according to age groups, Mr Iswaran today cited the findings of the Institute of Policy Studies last year, which revealed that “more than two-thirds of the participants in the study from all demographics have difficulty differentiating misinformation from real news reports”.
“While different age groups might have different media and information consumption habits, no age group is immune to misinformation,” he said, adding that even highly literate and tech-savvy participants, including the young and those with tertiary education, were susceptible to such falsehoods.
“The study underscores the importance of targeted efforts to strengthen digital literacy among different segments of our society. The Government and our partners have several initiatives aimed at this, such as the National Library Board’s SURE — which stands for Source, Understand, Research and Evaluate — programme and the Media Literacy Council (MLC)’s Better Internet campaign,” said Mr Iswaran.
The MLC previously received criticism for posting an infographic listing satire as one of the forms in which fake news can be propagated. It received further backlash for its apology, in which the Council assured that it did not intend to give “the wrong impression” that satire was fake news.
MLC said in Sep 2019 that the infographic was aimed at raising “awareness among youths and the general public about the need to be aware of the ways in which misinformation or fake news can be spread”, adding that it was also meant to “encourage readers to understand the context in which information is presented”.
“We acknowledge that the post and infographic gave the wrong impression that satire was fake news, which was not the intent. We are sorry for the confusion and will review our material,” said MLC.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam noted the same month that MLC had made an error in stating that satire is fake news, as the Government has been “very clear, both in Parliament and outside” that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) does not target satire.
“Only false statements that objectively would be seen as statements of fact can be caught under POFMA,” he said, stressing that the allegedly offending material has to be examined “objectively”.
“When there is material, it has to be looked at objectively – is it factual, is it false but pretends to be factual, or is it satire, parody, opinion and so on,” Mr Shanmugam added.
“Extreme use” of legislative means such as POFMA to combat misinformation on COVID-19 vaccines not always necessary unless warranted by “circumstances”, says S Iswaran
Separately earlier this month, Mr Iswaran said that the “extreme use” of legislative means such as POFMA to combat misinformation on COVID-19 vaccines is not always necessary unless warranted by “circumstances”.
Mr Iswaran was responding to a question from the Workers’ Party MP He Ting Ru on whether the POFMA Office is taking any measures to deal with misinformation over COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines.
Ms He also asked about how the Government is ensuring that such measures, if any, will not result in a chilling effect on those who raise legitimate concerns regarding vaccine-related issues.
Mr Iswaran said that the Government has at its disposal measures such as public communications to legislative means such as POFMA, adding that public education is crucial in the Government’s efforts to “strengthen our resilience against vaccine misinformation”.
This will enable Singaporeans to “make informed decisions for the safety and health of themselves, their loved ones and the community”, he said.
The Government, said Mr Iswaran, regularly conveys information and clarifications on vaccines and COVID-19 through its websites such as gov.sg, direct messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Telegram, and social media platforms.
“Over the past few weeks, vaccination information has been conveyed through print and broadcast interviews, as well as social media, direct messaging platforms, and gov.sg,” he said.
Local media, Mr Iswaran added, have also published articles and Frequently Asked Questions columns to address concerns and questions on vaccines.
The Government, he said, has worked with major tech companies to ensure that “authoritative sources, including the Ministry of Health’s website, are prominently included on their platforms”.
Touching on the vaccination programme for seniors, Mr Iswaran noted that community volunteers from the People’s Association as well as the Silver Generation ambassadors have been embarking on house visits to address elderly residents’ queries about the programme.
The Government, said Mr Iswaran, is also actively monitoring for vaccine-related misinformation and will not hesitate to “use the full force of the law” where there is cause for action.
“We should check that the information we receive comes from reliable sources. Make the effort to verify before sharing, and not share unverified information,” he stressed.
Jamus Lim, Ms He’s fellow Sengkang GRC MP, in a supplementary question, posited if “some benefit of the doubt” may be given to individuals who may “unwittingly sharing disinformation”, especially elderly people who may be sharing out of “individual scepticism”.
Mr Iswaran replied that the Government deploys a “range of possibilities” in its response to misinformation, from public education to targeted efforts to clarify certain points on government websites and other channels.
The Government, he said, does not need to always resort to extreme use of legislative means “unless it is warranted by the circumstances”.
“We have found that engagement with relevant parties has sufficed to clarify the matter and correct the misinformation,” said Mr Iswaran, referencing the scenario cited by Dr Lim in his question.