New initiatives to help religious and community groups combat fake news and terrorism

SINGAPORE – Two new initiatives have been launched to help religious and community groups fight fake news and terrorism.

One is a seminar module that helps them understand what is fake news and how such falsehoods could impact security and society.

The other is a security advisory booklet that will help them prepare their response plans for emergencies.

The initiatives were announced by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu on Saturday (Jan 12) at the Counter-Terrorism Seminar for Buddhist and Taoist Temples.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the event, Ms Fu said: “The threat to national security is ever present and we find that besides terrorist attacks, online falsehoods have also become a possible avenue.”

While Singapore enjoys racial and religious harmony, religion and race are easy targets for fault lines to emerge, Ms Fu cautioned.

“We’re affected by events that are happening outside (of Singapore) … So we must always have the resilience in society to help us combat such influences,” she said.

“In combating online falsehoods, we want to equip our community leaders with the ability to first detect and identify them, and then to have a response, which has to be very timely and effective.

“You have to build it (the response) before any incidents happen.”

The seminar module, titled Combating Fake News, is spearheaded by the National Library Board, which will work with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

One of the things taught is that humorous parodies and reports that one does not agree with do not constitute fake news.

An example of deliberate online falsehood is a recent allegation against Ya Kun Kaya Toast that a pork dish was sold at one of its outlets here. This was debunked by the home-grown food and beverage brand, which said all of its outlets here do not serve any food containing pork or lard and its kaya jam is also halal-certified.

The module, presented at Saturday’s seminar, will also be incorporated in future counter-terrorism seminars.

The seminar was the fifth in a series organised by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and MCCY to raise security awareness and vigilance among religious and community groups. Since 2017, more than 700 leaders from over 270 religious organisations have participated in the seminars.

The security advisory booklet includes advice on how to prepare a contingency response plan and planning guidelines for specific terror attack scenarios, such as the use of a vehicle as a weapon or the release of a chemical agent.

Written in four languages, the booklet is a collaboration between MCCY, SPF and the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs).

“Places of worship are often soft targets because they are where people congregate,” Ms Fu said. “This booklet is comprehensive (and will) help religious leaders better plan for emergencies.”

Religious leaders at the seminar welcomed the new initiatives.

On the fake news module, Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, said: “It tells people not to blindly trust what is online when it comes to religion. When in doubt, go directly to the religious leaders. They should clarify with us.”

Believing in dubious information can “cause trouble to (the devotees) themselves, to their own organisations or to other Singaporeans”, he added.

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