For Josephine Teo, digital governance is for the common good 

30/08/2023

“A lie travels halfway around the world while the truth is still tying its shoelace”. 

It is popular knowledge that the quick-witted 19th-century humourist Mark Twain first said this. Or that the 20th-century parodist Terry Pratchett came up with it.  

Appropriately enough for this age of endemic online falsehoods, these attributions are misinformed

Our Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo quoted this pithy truth (and no, she did not attribute it to anyone) this past Friday (Aug 25) at the Lien International Conference on Good Governance. 

Her point, that misinformation from user-generated online content spreads even further and faster, is an important one in this age of fake news, deepfakes and scams from malicious hackers and online trolls. Misinformation divides people. It is no laughing matter. 

“The aim of governance must ultimately be to foster a sense of solidarity and commitment for society to move forward together. Digital governance should also contribute to this objective,” Minister Teo explained.   

Source: Josephine Teo / Facebook 

How does the PAP government govern the digital domain and achieve this difficult aim during the age of misinformation? 

Infrastructure investments and capability development 

First: the fundamentals of making sure that the digital hardware and digital talent are there. 

This can involve the Government taking up risk for the common good, such as when scaling up national broadband speeds over 30 times from 30 megabits to one gigabit during the early 2000s. 

It was a $1 billion investment undertaken when most people were happy with 30 megabits. The rise of streaming video, however, coupled with the pandemic proved this a wise long-term investment. It helped to facilitate remote working, customers and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) go digital to online sales as well as students learn online. 

The Government also trains Singapore’s workers in digital skills and elsewhere fosters scientific advances on quantum technology to keep Singapore’s networks secure. 

Source: Josephine Teo / Facebook 

The result is a foundation of sustained high employment, low unemployment and wage growth, noted Minister Teo. 

These, Petir.sg notes, are vital preconditions which stabilise a society, and then help its people to trust each other. 

Laws, regulations and international cooperation 

Laws to keep this foundation stable, and to keep people safe, are also present. 

Hence the introduction and updating of laws for Personal Data Protection, Cybersecurity and Protection Against Online Falsehoods, as well on Online Safety and Online Criminal Harms

“Since 2018, we have gone through the full parliamentary process for enacting new laws for digital at least once a year. This is in addition to guidelines and frameworks we have introduced in areas where the effectiveness of legislation is not yet clear,” said Minister Teo.  

Internationally, our government works together with other countries digitally all the way up to the United Nations (UN), where Singapore chairs the Open-Ended Working Group for ICT Security.  

Singapore also leads projects in the International Counter Ransomware Initiative.  

These together keep the flow of digital information secure and trustworthy. They stem the tide of misinformation which bad actors cynically create. 

A whole-of-society involvement 

Developing partnerships with the private and people sectors are also key to digital governance. Here, the government developed AI Verify alongside the private sector so that companies can share transparent reports about their AI with their stakeholders. 

Meanwhile, the Digital for Life movement is a government initiative where tech companies and social agencies partner to educate elderly Singaporeans about scams.    

Source: Josephine Teo / Facebook 

Both initiatives foster environments where trust is backed up with the assurance that other people are out there working with you on the same pesky problem. They focus on the human aspect of the digital; building positive relationships and circulating the right information for Singaporeans to go on their digital journey together.  

All these government efforts have helped propel the information and communications sector to be Singapore’s fastest growing one every year since 2022. This is despite the difficult and ongoing challenges there — and the new, disruptive ones which are an inevitability. 

Minister Teo has another strategy for this future.  

“In the absence of easy playbooks, there is much to be gained through more frequent sharing of observations and exchanges of experiences. However daunting our tasks may be, we owe our citizens in the present and future the determination to try,” she said.  

Now, that foregrounds resolve and unity as Singapore moves forward. It is really a stand which deserves a smile of agreement.