Singapore government taps on TikTok to counter rising scams through edutainment
By Rachel Teng
SAC Devrajan Bala, Director of the Scam Public Education Office, and Teresa Tan, Head of Public Policy at TikTok Southeast Asia, share how a public-private partnership is helping Singaporeans to stave off scams.
Images (left to right): @jaynejjetplanee, @ainlovescode and @mayiduosg via Tiktok.
Singapore is one of the most digitalised states in the world, but that comes at the cost of being a magnet for digital scammers.
In recent years, the Singapore government has been engaged in an epic arms race against fraudsters, with the Singapore Police Force (SPF) reporting 31,728 scam cases in 2022, a 32.6 per cent surge from the previous year.
To address this issue, public officials have had to be as creative as their adversaries in their outreach. As part of a new partnership with social media platform TikTok, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) and SPF aim to build a trusted online space by equipping online users with the resources to navigate the digital world astutely.
Why a partnership with TikTok, if the bulk of users on the platform are thought to be youth who are digitally savvy and less susceptible to scams? Senior Assistant Commissioner Devrajan Bala, Director of the Scam Public Education Office (SPEO), tells GovInsider that this is a common misconception.
“Young adults made up more than half the number of scam victims in 2022. We want to leverage social media using content that will appeal to the younger audience, to continue to remind them to be alert when they are interacting online, and that everyone has a part to play in our fight against scams,” he says.
GovInsider hears from Devrajan and Teresa Tan, Head of Public Policy at TikTok Southeast Asia, about how this public-private partnership is helping encourage the public to “ACT” (Add, Check and Tell) against scams.
The rise of edutainment: #LearnOnTikTok
As an extension of educational resources available on TikTok’s Digital Wellness Hub launched in 2022, the Scam Prevention Edition aims to translate anti-scam awareness into actions through engaging content on TikTok, Tan tells GovInsider.
Since its rise to fame in 2017, the social media platform now has over 1 billion users worldwide and is known for its unique short-video format that makes content highly accessible and digestible. In Singapore, 44 per cent of internet users (1.83 million) spend an average of 16 hours a month on the app.
“This unlocks real-world opportunities for creators, brands, and SMEs to use the platform as an exciting way to reach and engage with new audiences they otherwise would not have been connected with before,” says Tan. In Singapore, local TikTokers have built up enough engagement over the pandemic to earn a salary higher than that of a fresh graduate.
In recent years, TikTok has evolved from a purely entertainment platform into an educational space for users to supplement traditional learning, on subjects ranging from mathematics and coding to languages, architecture, and environmental science. In a 2023 report, 94 per cent of educators across Southeast Asia said that they were able to successfully reach out to more users through TikTok.
In Singapore, the number of educational videos on the platform increased by more than 38 times during the pandemic between February 2020 and January 2021 alone, Tan tells GovInsider. Globally, the hashtag #LearnOnTikTok has generated more than 678 billion views globally, across 22 million videos produced.
Riding on this edutainment wave, the Scam Prevention Edition of TikTok’s Digital Wellness Hub has engaged local TikTok creators to share their personal encounters with online scams. These personalities include software developer Ainul Md Razib (@ainlovescode, savings expert Melvin Seetoh (@niaolikesiao) and sleep expert Zoe Chu (@sgsupernanny).
Creators put out content specific to the types of top scams in Singapore that they or their loved ones were exposed to. These range from phishing and job scams to fake friend calls and social media impersonation scams.
“Through the #ICanACTAgainstScams hashtag challenge, we aim to foster a community where users can share prevention tips, and support and look out for each other,” Tan adds. This hashtag has since garnered a collective 42.6 million views on TikTok.The “What scam type are you most prone to?” interactive filter has also helped users learn about the different types of scams in a visually engaging manner.
Beyond awareness: regulatory frameworks
As scams continue to become more sophisticated, Tan believes that a continuing joint effort between public and private sector stakeholders is crucial to building overall defense. “Besides the government, TikTok also works with industry experts, non-governmental organisations and industry associations around the world in our commitment to building a safe platform for our community,” she says.
These include engaging fact-checking partners to help review and assess the accuracy of content across more than 60 markets. If content violates its misinformation policies, the platform either removes it from the platform and notifies the creator, or it becomes ineligible for recommendation into anyone’s unique For You feed, which can range outside the content that a user follows.
TikTok also maintains a set of Community Guidelines that are informed by international legal frameworks, industry best practices, and inputs from Advisory Councils and the community.
Users are also encouraged to report any suspicious in-app activities under the platform’s “Frauds and Scams'' section. Between January to March 2023, TikTok has removed 89.7 per cent of content flagged as fraudulent, according to Tan.
“While we continue to build the digital literacy and safety resources available for our users in-app, we are also looking to translate these into the offline space, with in-person activations that will help to reach a wider audience and ensure that digital citizenship … is kept top-of-mind within the local community,” Tan adds.