Tech companies to help religious organisations in Singapore fight online radicalisation

SINGAPORE – To counter the threat of online radicalisation, tech giants Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok will be teaching religious and community organisations here how they can use social media to educate users on issues of race and religion.

Launched on Friday (June 25), the pilot project aims to equip the organisations with skills to broaden their online presence and facilitate sensitive discourse in the digital sphere.

The tech companies will run three workshops from June to August.

Participating religious organisations include the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), the National Council of Churches of Singapore and the Taoist Federation.

Announcing the initiative, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Alvin Tan said that with more people going online during the pandemic, the challenge lies in managing divisive rhetoric on social media.

“While social media has the power to divide, it also has the power to unite. Our technology partners are working with us to positively influence online spaces so we can grow common ground in our community,” he said.

Through the workshops, religious organisations will learn how to present educational information in a way that is relatable to young people, such as through Instagram stories or TikTok videos.

They will also be taught how to report extremist content to the platforms and facilitate candid discussions on race and religion through live stream, for example.

Mr Abbas Ali Mohamed Anas, ambassador of youth-led interfaith initiative Roses of Peace, said the workshops come at a crucial time where more people are using social media to have difficult conversations on race and religion.

“Without proper guidance and information to navigate this digital space, we face the risk of online radicalisation and hate speech among our youths,” he said. “We need to counter this worrying trend by facilitating conversations responsibly through messages of peace, love and harmony,” Mr Abbas added.

The initiative comes after two youths were recently detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for separate plans to attack Muslims and Jews. The self-radicalised youths had consumed violent materials online.

The first was a 16-year-old Christian Singaporean student who plotted to attack Muslims at two mosques here on the second anniversary of the Christchurch attacks in New Zealand. The Christchurch attacks took place on March 15, 2019. 

The other was 20-year-old Amirull Ali, then a full-time national serviceman in the Singapore Armed Forces. He had planned to use a knife to attack and kill Jews leaving a synagogue. He was detained in March this year.

Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Alvin Tan (centre) together with (from left) TikTok’s Ms Teresa Tan, Google’s Ms Rachel Teo, Facebook’s Ms Clara Koh and Twitter’s Ms Amanda Ang at the launch of the initiative on June 25, 2021. PHOTO: MCCY

In its report on Thursday, the Internal Security Department said that of the 54 people who have been dealt with under the ISA for terrorism-related conduct since 2015, 44 of them were self radicalised.

Ms Clara Koh, Facebook’s head of public policy for Singapore and Asean, said during the programme’s launch: “I would say emphatically that hate, intolerance and extremism are not what we want on Facebook. They have no place.”

She added: “We believe that positive speech can be a bulwark against destructive speech. That’s why we’re here to help community organisations amplify their calls to action and effectively build bridges in the online space.”

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Ms Teresa Tan, TikTok’s head of public policy for Singapore and South-east Asia, gave an example of how interfaith groups can rally the community to spot signs of radicalisation online.

“These are topics that can be presented in a short, relatable video so youths can be their eyes and ears on the ground,” she said.

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