Updated: June 28, 2021 07:49 AM GMT
A Muslim devotee arriving for Friday prayers walks past social distancing markers at Al-Istighfar Mosque after the government lifted restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic in Singapore on June 25. (Photo: AFP)
The Catholic Church in Singapore has joined a project in collaboration with the city state's government and tech giants Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok aiming to train religious and community organizations in using social media to tackle online radicalism.
Concerned about cyber indoctrination, Singapore’s Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth launched the pilot project on June 26.
It seeks to conduct three workshops by technology companies from June to August in an effort to help organisations to strengthen their online presence and guide users about sensitive and radical content.
Among the participants are the Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, the National Council of Churches in Singapore, the Taoist Foundation and the Hindu Endowments Board.
Alvin Tan, minister of state for culture, community and youth, said the pandemic has forced more people to move online, increasing the risk of more people being exposed to divisive content 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 that we can grow common ground in our community," he said while announcing the launch of the initiative.
Without proper guidance and information to navigate this digital space, we face the risk of online radicalization and hate speech among our youth
The workshops will help religious groups to educate people, mostly youth, by using channels such as Instagram stories and TikTok videos to dissuade them from watching extremist content about race and religion.
They will also learn how to report such malicious content to social media platforms and organize open discussions on such topics through livestreaming.
Abbas Ali Mohamed Anas, an ambassador of interfaith youth platform Roses for Peace, said the initiative was timely and crucial.
"Without proper guidance and information to navigate this digital space, we face the risk of online radicalization and hate speech among our youth," he said, reported the Straits Times.
"We need to counter this worrying trend by facilitating conversations responsibly through messages of peace, love and harmony."
The pilot project is believed to have stemmed from several cases of cyber-radicalism reported in Singapore recently. In January, Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) announced that a 16-year-old Christian student had been arrested under the Internal Security Act for plotting attacks on two mosques and killing worshippers on March 15, the second anniversary of the New Zealand terror attacks.
The youth was specifically influenced by the far-right, extremist ideology of Australian Brenton Tarran, who massacred some 50 mosque-goers in Christchurch in 2019.
In March, the ISD revealed that a 20-year-old Singaporean Muslim solider had been arrested for planning a deadly stabbing spree against Jews. The man planned to ambush and kill at least three Jews after they left a synagogue after prayers.
Such self-radicalization of youths was unprecedented and shocked multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities in Singapore and prompted the authorities to make efforts to tackle creeping online indoctrination.
We believe that positive speech can be a bulwark against destructive speech
Clara Koh, head of public policy for Singapore and ASEAN at Facebook, said the social media giant is committed to uproot cyber radicalism.
"I would say emphatically that hate, intolerance and extremism are not what we want on Facebook. They have no place,” Koh said during the program’s induction.
"We believe that positive speech can be a bulwark against destructive speech. That's why we are here to help community organisations amplify their calls to action and effectively build bridges in the online space."
Singapore, with a population of about 5.6 million, is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Most Chinese are Buddhists and most Malays are Muslims. Christians comprise about 15 percent of the population.