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Asia Centre report highlights proliferation of unchecked hate sites in Singapore

SINGAPORE — The Asia Centre, a Bangkok-based research institute, published a critical report on Saturday (7 Jul) titled “Political Hate Sites in Singapore: Flourishing Without Repercussions”.

The report explores the challenges to public accountability and freedom of speech arising from unregulated hate sites, and their implications for Singapore’s political landscape.

According to the report, the government’s internet laws have historically been used to monitor, regulate, and censor online criticism.

Recently, however, these laws have failed to address the rise of hate content and trolling targeting activists, bloggers, independent journalists, human rights lawyers, and opposition politicians, seeking to hold public officials accountable.

This report marks the emergence of political hate sites as the fourth phase in Singapore’s online political history. The first three phases involved stringent regulation of online content, especially criticisms of public officials and policies.

These regulations often led to disproportionate legal actions against individuals or groups demanding public accountability, notably through acts such as the Broadcasting Act, Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, and the Online Criminal Harms Act.

The report argues that these laws have progressively narrowed the legally permissible space to voice concerns online, leading to tight policing of online opposition political activity, de-legitimisation of critical online content, and legal prosecution of critics.

The emergence of political hate sites, according to the report, is being used to negate efforts by those willing to occupy the remaining narrow legal space to uphold checks and balances. These hate sites target not just activists and opposition figures but also foreign workers and other countries’ political leaders.

These sites, aided by Internet Brigades (IBs), disseminate hate content and misinformation intended to discredit critics and maintain a positive image of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

In addition to generating hate content, IBs exploit social media platforms’ community guidelines violation reporting to remove critical content and disable critics’ accounts. This tactic effectively mutes voices critical of government officials and policies.

In one of the interviews conducted by Asia Centre, Hong Kong based academic, Stephan Ortmann, noted that “pro-PAP Internet Brigades work to create an illusion that the majority of Singaporeans support the PAP by creating a large amount of pro-PAP content online” (KII5).

For example, in one case, a Facebook post of Brad Bowyer criticising financial policies saw over 100 comments from fake accounts that shared similar narratives and pointed to similar links that purportedly debunk his claim.

This was corroborated in another interview with Melvin Tan, a long-time observer of the internet political landscape, flagging the fact that “the pro-PAP community has increasingly been generating more positive pro-PAP content” in the online sphere.

The second trend is coordinated actions carried out by IBs. In this case, the distinctive trait of coordinated action is the existence of a common agenda. Political hate sites often attack those with political views that differ from theirs. At the same time, in doing so, they amplify their messages.

In Singapore, political hate sites target those criticising public officials and policies, thus attempting to lift the image of the PAP.

Historian and Managing Editor of New Naratif, PJ Thum noted that hateful messages found on social media pages and online forums have the trait of coordinated behaviour: newly created accounts with false profile pictures repeat false and hateful talking points while avoiding meaningful engagement with other users who challenge their claims.

Notably, the role of IBs distances public officials from direct involvement in such hate campaigns.

In light of these developments, the Asia Centre’s report puts forth several recommendations to address the situation.

It calls for greater international monitoring and documentation of online hate speech, laws compelling enforcement agencies and technology companies to address hate content, and the repeal and amendment of legislation that restricts and censors criticism of public officials and policies.

Furthermore, the report urges tech companies to play a more active role in moderating hate content on their platforms, and to be transparent in their actions. It also emphasizes the need to raise awareness of political hate sites and their mental health consequences through digital literacy and education programmes.

The report affirms the importance of ensuring a safe online environment for expressing policy concerns and opinions. As it stands, hate sites in Singapore have flourished unchecked, leading to systemic online harassment and intimidation.


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