IPS study finds low digital literacy level in S'pore; 6 in 10 respondents believed false info

Dec 18, 2020 | 🚀 Fathership

SINGAPORE - Nearly six in 10 Singaporeans or permanent residents have encountered and believed false information in the form of text or images, a study has shown.

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey found that no one is immune to false information regardless of age, socio-economic status and educational background, with more than two-thirds of over 2,000 respondents trusting a manipulated "news article" presented to them as part of the study.

Of these, nearly half of the respondents that the IPS classified as "informationally savvy" trusted the article and did not spot signs that it had been manipulated.

The study also found that digital and information literacy among Singaporeans was generally low.

Trust in local mainstream media, such as online news websites, newspapers and television, is higher than non-traditional platforms like social networking sites and instant messaging.

The IPS on Thursday (Dec 17) released the findings of phase one of its study, which aims to understand the susceptibility of Singaporeans towards false information.

Phases two and three of the study, which are still in progress, will explore how Singaporeans process and verify information, as well as assess the effectiveness of digital literacy programmes.

Here are the key findings of the survey, which was conducted between November and December 2019 by IPS senior research fellow Dr Carol Soon and research assistant Shawn Goh:

1. No one is immune to false information

Close to six in 10 respondents said they sometimes, often, or very often encountered and believed false information in the form of text and images.

More than two-thirds of them also trusted a "news article" that the IPS had manipulated for the purpose of the study, even though it had changed the source URL, cited false authorities, and included multiple grammatical errors.

Even those who are more savvy - such as younger Singaporeans with tertiary education - were not immune, with 46.9 per cent of them trusting the doctored article.

Seniors and those living in public housing, particularly those in one- to three-room HDB flats, were the most susceptible to false information.

Respondents with high trust in online-only news sites, and those with high confirmation bias, were also found to be more susceptible; while those with greater knowledge about the media and information landscape were less so.

2. High level of use and trust in mainstream media

Most Singaporeans still rely on what the IPS calls legacy media - commonly referred to as mainstream media - for news and current affairs.

Television was used most frequently by 59.3 per cent of respondents, followed by the online websites of local mainstream media such as The Straits Times and CNA (52.2 per cent), and local print newspapers (34.8 per cent).

Trust in these media types was higher than in those of non-legacy media, including social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook and instant messaging (IM) platforms such as WhatsApp.

Seventy-four per cent of respondents said TV news was trustworthy or very trustworthy, followed by print newspapers (70.1 per cent), radio (67.6 per cent), and online websites of Singapore mainstream media (61.6 per cent).

"Print newspapers follow a fixed production cycle where the longer process enables more robust fact-checking and verification to be done," the study explained.

3. People's social networks drive the sharing of false information

IM platforms and SNS were the main channels of false information, the study found.

More than 60 per cent of respondents said they sometimes, often, or very often encountered false information on IM platforms, while 57 per cent said they did so on SNS.

Yet, close to three-quarters of respondents said they had shared false information on SNS and IM platforms because the information came from close family and friends.

One possible explanation for why false information appears more believable on these platforms, said the study, is because information is likely to be shared by trusted persons such as family members, close friends, or opinion leaders.

"In the case of social networking sites, one additional factor may be because people's social media feeds exist in information bubbles that result from their information curation."

It added that the personalised information streams increase people's chances of being presented with false information that reinforces their individual biases.

Another worrying trend, it noted, is that most respondents verify information by asking their family members, friends, or colleagues first (62 per cent), before using a search engine (50.1 per cent) and checking with news sources (47.4 per cent).

4. Policy implications

The study cited several policy implications.

First, there is a need to boost digital literacy by equipping people with tools and skills to assess different elements of information - such as sensationalised headlines, typos and errors, news sources, and tone of the language used.

"People need to be educated with a very specific type of knowledge - knowledge about the how the news media and information landscape operates - in order for them to become less susceptible to false information," it said.

Second, there should be more targeted interventions for seniors and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Their greater tendency to trust the manipulated news article suggests a possible class divide in information literacy, it said, citing research which has shown that students from families of lower socio-economic status tend to be less confident and capable of navigating the online space.

Third, the quality of journalism should be improved, particularly for non-mainstream media which may lack the processes that established newsrooms have in place to ensure accuracy.

The authorities can also tap trusted media and tech platforms such as search engines, to spread corrective information and debunk falsehoods.

Finally, given the role played by interpersonal networks in spreading information, it is useful to tap the power of social and community networks to debunk falsehoods.

Said the study: "Digital literacy programmes should also look into imparting soft skills relating to intervention, such as how to respond to family members and friends who forward unverified or false information in a sensitive yet effective manner."

Unrepentant teen with a long list of offences is why some parents shouldn't breed

Nov 25, 2021 | 🚀 Fathership

Ralph Wee Yi Kai, a 19-year-old Singaporean man, has pleaded guilty to eight charges on Nov. 25 during his plead guilty mention before District Judge May Mesenas.

The charges include consuming weed, causing unnecessary suffering to a frog, possessing imitation tobacco products, trespassing into the rhinoceros enclosure at the Singapore Zoo, and committing mischief by damaging property, reported CNA.

Another six charges will be considered during his sentencing.

Probation is "not realistic"

Wee pleaded guilty via video link from his place in remand, where he has been since Nov. 6.

The prosecution strongly objected to a probation suitability report, noting that Wee is "beyond the control of his parents, which renders probation unsuitable", according to CNA.

The prosecution asserted that probation "is not realistic" for Wee, based on his repeated offences and conduct in court.

They cited his "blatant disregard for rules", and urged for a reformative training suitability report instead.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Melissa Lee said Wee "has a tendency to abuse drugs and alcohol", which caused him to behave aggressively towards his parents.

He also "posed a risk" to them, which led him to be admitted to the Institute of Mental Health.

"Never expected it to come to this"

Wee's defence lawyer Shashi Nathan requested for the addition of a probation suitability report, according to CNA.

Shashi maintains that his family is able to supervise Wee, and added that his client "comes from a good family" who are "able to look after him".

He said that Wee was undergoing "a severe emotional crisis" when he committed his offences, and shared that the case has also affected Wee's family, especially after their home address was released to the press.

"While Ralph understands that what he did was wrong, he never expected it to come to this," said Shashi.

Difference between probation and reformative training

Wee was ordered to go though both assessments for a probation suitability report and a reformative training report, reported Yahoo News.

Offenders who undergo probation will not have a criminal record, while reformative training, which provides a more structured environment, results in a criminal record.

What Wee's lawyer said

Wee's lawyer said his client acted out after breaking up with his girlfriend, 18, who was the one who filmed the video of Wee backflipping in the zoo.

The defence lawyer, Shashi, said Wee spiralled into an emotional crisis as a result of his break-up.

Wee is homeschooled.

The court was told Wee saw a video of a man riding a giraffe and decided to make a video in the rhino enclosure, Yahoo News reported.

The ex-girlfriend had filmed the act and posted it on her private Snapchat account.

Wee posted it on his public TikTok account and a police report was made by a zoo personnel within the same day.

Wee removed the video when he was told to do so by the police, but reposted it on Dec. 18, before being told to remove it again, claiming he thought the video had been made private when he reposted it.

Wee had also included a link in his Instagram account biography to directed to a page selling t-shirts with the words "rhino ralph".

But he denied creating the merchandise profile.

He later removed the link.

Wee will return to court on Dec. 20 for his sentencing.

Timeline of events with updated details

Oct. 9, 2020, 2:40am: Allegedly committed an act of vandalism by hitting an information panel at a bus stop in Sixth Avenue, off Bukit Timah Road, causing S$900 in damage.

Allegedly caused damage to two cars -- S$2,800 to a Mercedes-Benz and more than S$1,600 to a BMW -- in nearby Sixth Crescent.

A taxi driver passing by reported him to the police, as Wee was standing in the middle of the road with a beer bottle in hand.

Dec. 16, 2020: Wee was placed on compulsory supervision for 60 months from Dec. 16. He was required to present himself for urine tests on each Tuesday and Thursday, but failed to turn up on four occasions.

He was placed on e-tagging during this period of time, after having been charged for his earlier offences.

He had to stay at home from 10pm to 6am as part of his bail conditions.

Dec. 17, 2020, 2.40pm: Accused of trespassing into the rhinoceros enclosure and taking a video.

Dec. 18, 2020: Reposted zoo video, despite taking it down earlier after being told to do so by the police. Told to remove video again.

Dec. 24, 2020: Accused of abusing a frog, which subsequently died, by hitting a ball against it on a foosball table, causing "unnecessary pain and suffering".

The incident allegedly took place at a Sentosa Cove property.

July 2021: First hauled to court and charged with two counts of mischief, as well as one count each of vandalism and criminal trespass.

Bail was then set at S$15,000.

Aug. 6, 2021: Allegedly consumed cannabis while out on bail. Arrested at his residence and two urine samples obtained tested positive for weed. S$15,000 bail revoked.

Sep. 14, 2021: Allegedly possessed an e-vaporiser and six e-cigarette pods at a ward in the Institute of Mental Health.

Three police officers showed up at IMH, where Wee was warded, to arrest him for failing to attend court.

He was admitted to IMH due to his drug and alcohol abuse, as had acted aggressively towards his parents when they demanded the drugs from him.

He was warded in IMH due to the risk he posed to his parents.

Oct. 13, 2021: Charged with one count of drug consumption while still in remand.

Bail raised to S$20,000 and Wee was released.

While out on second bail, Wee committed a string of offences, including cutting his electronic tag, according to ST, as well as not reporting for his urine tests on a few occasions, CNA reported.

The prosecution has called for an urgent bail review hearing to have Wee's second bail revoked for the alleged fresh offences.

Oct. 26, 2021: Allegedly cut a S$100 GPS ankle tag at an address on Leedon Road at about 12:10am.

Prior to this act, Wee was upset at his father, who had asked Wee to sleep early since he had to report for his urine test in the morning.

After arguing with his father, Wee decided to leave the house, and used pliers to cut off his e-tag before cycling to his friend’s house.

Upon discovering that Wee was missing, his father called the police.

The e-tag, worth S$100, was damaged and could no longer be used.

It was found in Wee’s house.

Oct. 28, 2021: Allegedly possessed an e-cigarette pod at the Leedon Road address.

Nov. 5, 2021: Warrant of arrest issued, as Wee could not wake up to attend court.

Nov. 6, 2021: Wee arrested.

Nov. 12, 2021: Slapped with four additional charges.

Nov. 25, 2021: Pleaded guilty to consuming weed, causing unnecessary suffering to a frog, possessing imitation tobacco products, trespassing into a rhino enclosure, and committing mischief by damaging property belonging to others.

Ordered to go though assessments for a probation suitability report and a reformative training report.