Singapore’s effort to protect itself from foreign interference in its domestic affairs draws attention to its vulnerability to what essentially is a new form of warfare. One reason that conflicts continue to occur is that newer and newer means of waging them have been employed over generations. From open conflict and subterfuge, lobbying and influence-peddling, to bribery and espionage – any means covert and overt have been used, including diplomacy. The Internet era has broadened the means for doing so exponentially. It has significantly amplified the scope for waging attacks on the beliefs and practices of nations and their societies through false, misleading or biased information and the like, with the primary objective being to sow discord, fear and uncertainty, and create an atmosphere in which a society’s fabric gets worn down and torn apart.
There is little scope for getting broad and unanimous agreement from the companies that own, operate or host social media and online platforms to step up to the plate and self-regulate, although some have expressed a willingness to work with governments to address the threats posed to a country’s domestic politics, public opinion and social integrity. Such companies stand to lose too much in advertising or eyeballs, or both. There is also too wide a range of views on what constitutes interference. The difficulty in securing a single position makes it all the more necessary for governments to set their parameters, which must then be respected by those operating within those boundaries.