Originally published June 29, 2020 on Academia.sg
Voters should require parties and candidates to pledge themselves to Accountability, Civility and Transparency in the use of online tools. By Damien Chng, Chong Ja Ian, Cherian George, Howard Lee and Netina Tan.
This General Election will be the most internet-reliant in the republic’s history. It is also Singapore’s first since it became clear to the world that online tricks for manipulating public opinion have outstripped societies’ traditional defences against disinformation.
Many voters are by now on guard against “fake news”. Vigilant netizens are active in pushing back against abuses of online freedoms. Nevertheless, we believe Singapore remains vulnerable to parties’ sophisticated and often invisible computational propaganda as well as cybertroopers  — traditionally associated with authoritarian regimes such as China and Turkey.
Candidates and political parties involved in GE2020 should publicly commit to clean and fair online campaigning. Voters should hold to account those trying to benefit from the cynical and underhanded use of manipulative technologies. Two risks are of concern. First, there is the abuse of online tools to deceive voters by, for example, the use of bots to give voters a misleading picture about the state of public opinion. Second, although polarising rhetoric has always featured in elections, digital techniques such as micro-targeting  and profiling take this tendency to new extremes, with divisive effects that may long outlast the elections. Both risks were highlighted by government ministers in recent years , so we hope that the incumbent party as well as challengers disavow these campaign methods unequivocally.Continue reading