Back in 1835, New York newspaper The Sun published six articles alleging the discovery of life on the moon. Unicorns, humans with bat wings, and two-legged beavers frolicked around lush vegetation and amethyst crystals. Unfortunately, readers lapped it up as if it were true.

We’re still seeing fake news today, albeit more sinister and life-threatening. Covid-19 misinformation has spread like wildfire on social media and messaging platforms, and it hasn’t always been easy to tell what’s true.

Singapore has embarked on a year-long partnership with Twitter to promote trusted information on Covid-19 and train its citizens. Amanda Ang, Head of Public Policy, Twitter Singapore, and Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) share more.

Tackling Covid-19 misinformation

“Conversations move quickly on social media, meaning that misinformation has the potential to spread quickly if it is not kept in check,” says Ang.

Southeast Asia has already seen its fair share of Covid-19 misinformation. An Indonesian musician has announced on his social media that the pandemic is an exaggerated plot by the rich; while a Telegram group in Singapore spread claims that the vaccine causes people to be magnetic, reported Rest of World.

The Singapore government is working with tech companies like Twitter to “enhance public understanding of Covid-19 and vaccination, as well as to address speculation, rumours, scams, and misinformation”, says MCI.

Twitter has provided “pro-bono advertising credits” to trusted sources like Gov.sg and the Ministry of Health to promote latest updates on the vaccination rollout.

Twitter’s #KnowTheFacts feature directs users to credible, official public health sources such as Gov.sg and the Ministry of Health when they search for keywords related to Covid-19. Ang says it’s also halting any suggested results that are likely to direct individuals to non-credible content.

Since Twitter introduced a misinformation policy last March, it has suspended more than 1,400 accounts and removed over 43,010 pieces of content worldwide. It’s also labelling tweets that may contain misleading content about vaccines.

Tackling misinformation requires digital literacy. Twitter is working with the Infocomm Media Development Authority on its Digital For Life movement. Both organisations are carrying out community outreach sessions with youth and seniors to share tips for digital literacy and online safety.

Training with Twitter

“In today’s environment, it is critical that we focus our efforts even more on enhancing our people’s digital literacy and skills,” Ang Chin Tah, Senior Vice President of Digital Industry Singapore, tells GovInsider.

The agency is partnering other government agencies and tech companies like Twitter to identify skills gaps, brainstorm solutions, and roll out targeted training programmes, he adds.

Twitter announced in July that it will offer all Singaporeans free access to Twitter Flight School, an education programme to share tips on “Twitter marketing essentials”. This will cover everything from creative design to analysing insights.

It offers both online courses and live workshops that can be conducted in-person or virtually. Some courses also provide achievement badges upon completion of assessments.

The programme was “soft launched” earlier this year with six institutes of higher learning and three government agencies, Ang says.

The tech giant is also looking to help women enter the tech sector. It will carry out a two-day virtual immersion programme to introduce around 40 female computer science or engineering students to Twitter’s engineering work.

Known as #DevelopHER, participants will work on coding challenges, attend technical workshops, and mentorship sessions.

A strategic location

“Singapore has always been an important market to Twitter, but there’s no doubt that one of the decisive factors is the nation’s strength and diversity of talent,” says Ang.

That’s one of the reasons why the tech giant set up its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore in 2015, she adds.

Twitter also launched its first Asia-Pacific engineering centre in Singapore last February. It’s hiring 65 talents to cover product engineering, software engineering, data engineering and data science.

“Coupled with easy connectivity to neighbouring countries, and its status as an innovation hub, Singapore offers many opportunities for Twitter to grow together with the country and its Smart Nation goals,” Ang says.

Misinformation is growing rampant in today’s digital age. But partnerships between tech giants and governments, such as these, promise hope in fighting this sinister problem.