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S’pore must be on guard against online threats

S’pore must be on guard against online threats

Defence Minister and party’s organising secretary Ng Eng Hen has called for “less personal attacks, but more serious debate” during the campaigning period. TODAY file photo

SINGAPORE — There is a new threat on the horizon that could hamper Singapore’s Total Defence efforts: The distorted or false information, rumours and smears that emanate from the Internet.

Warning against these yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said such distortions could spread far and wide and even cause confusion and chaos, weakening the country’s resolve and causing disunity.

“You would think that in this day and age, where information could be sent out, it would be easier to communicate,” he said at the Total Defence Symposium. “It is actually the reverse.”

Identifying information management as one key area in Total Defence, he said the authorities must have a quick response plan, but at the same time, Singaporeans themselves must be more discerning about information on the Internet.

Dr Ng’s comments came after Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim criticised blogger Ravi Philemon in Parliament last month for making a misinformed post about delivery of masks to the public during the haze crisis. In response, Mr Philemon said he was not asserting a fact, but only seeking more information on the haze as the Government’s assurances about the masks “did not tally with the situation on the ground”.

At the event yesterday, Dr Ng said the over four decades of peace enjoyed by Singapore also meant that the Republic has to manage the “complacency that can set in”.

Noting that Total Defence campaigns have been conducted “every year for many years”, he asked the over 900-strong audience — which consisted mainly of employers — how the effectiveness of the efforts and plans for Total Defence could be assessed.

Dr Ng highlighted two “minor battles” — the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the worst haze episode that hit in June — which tested Total Defence efforts. In both cases, people from all walks of life, from employers to grassroots volunteers, non-government organisations and individual Singaporeans, rallied to help one another, he said.

“Youth groups, for instance, bought masks and distributed them to the elderly and the needy in the society. Others willingly opened up their air-conditioned homes for strangers to take refuge from the haze,” Dr Ng added.

While Singapore can take “great assurance” that these efforts in Total Defence are “bearing fruit”, Dr Ng said one area needed to be improved on is in information management.

“In a tense and volatile situation, DRUMS (Distortions, Rumours, Untruths, Misinformation and Smears) can spread very far and wide and even cause confusion and chaos. Those who would do us harm will purposely start DRUMS to weaken our resolve and cause disunity,” he said.

“We have to learn how to respond to DRUMS, both as a Government and the people. The authorities must have a quick response plan. At the same time, the people themselves must be more discerning about the information that they read on the Internet. Singaporeans themselves can respond or counter and stop the spread of DRUMS.”

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