Asia Singapore MHA: TikTok accounts flagged, but no hostile information campaign found in S’pore

MHA: TikTok accounts flagged, but no hostile information campaign found in S’pore

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The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has flagged to TikTok for review multiple accounts that appear to be inauthentic, even as it said it has not detected a coordinated hostile information campaign against Singapore to sway public opinion on Russia`s invasion of Ukraine.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times (ST), MHA said on March 25 that it has noticed accounts that “repeatedly (voice) opinions to convey a misleading impression of widespread local opposition to the Government`s position”, referring to comments that have surfaced on TikTok condemning Singapore`s sanctions against Russia.

The nature of TikTok makes it difficult for casual users to determine whether or not the accounts are manned by real users, since people can begin posting using only an e-mail account.

But a spokesman for TikTok told ST that it has reviewed all the flagged accounts but will not be acting against them as they do not violate its guidelines. A spokesman for MHA told ST: “We have detected TikTok accounts involved in local online discussions about the Ukraine conflict, with characteristics that suggest that they may be inauthentic.

The spokesman further warned: “Foreign actors may want to influence local opinion in their favour, to garner general public support, or even to turn the public against positions taken by the Government, for their own vested interests.”

When asked why the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, which seeks to correct false statements of facts made online that could harm national interest, has yet to be used against these actors, MHA said the accounts they have detected are more likely to use a strategy of swarming online space with opinions.

“(They) galvanise others towards their opinion, and not necessarily by spreading false statements of fact per se,” MHA said. According to an online poll conducted on March 9 and 10 by The Blackbox Research, the reality of public opinion is very different from the skewed impression of Russian support given by the mass of online commenters.

The research shows that a vast majority of 95 per cent of the 1,711 Singaporeans interviewed supported or sympathised most closely with Ukraine in the conflict, and six in 10 agreed with the Singapore’s decision to impose sanctions on Russia.

Multiple governmental agencies and private business have imposed or attempted impose bans on the social media service TikTok. Countries like India and the United States have expressed concerns about the app’s ownership by the Chinese company, ByteDance, attempting to ban it from app stores. Countries such as Indonesia and Bangladesh have banned it on the basis of pornography-related concerns, while others like Armenia and Azerbaijan have implemented restrictions to mitigate the spread of information which could lead to conflict.

ByteDance is planning to make Singapore its beachhead for the rest of Asia as part of its global expansion reported the ST in 2020. The Beijing-based company is looking to spend several billion dollars and add hundreds of jobs over the next few years in the Republic, where it has applied for a licence to operate a digital bank.

ByteDance, the Beijing-based tech giant, has been developing a financial service and online payment platform modeled after Alibaba’s Ant Group, with preparations nearing an advanced stage, local news outlet Tech Planet reported in April last year.

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