Ex-Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Nicholas Fang has drawn criticism for insinuating that only “anti-PAP” websites are susceptible to foreign influence.
Mr Fang presently serves as the Managing Director of data content specialist and fact-checking website Black Box Research and director of security and global affairs at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. He has previously worked for mainstream media channels The Straits Times and Channel News Asia.
Speaking at the Conference for Foreign Interference Tactics and Countermeasures on 25 Sept, Mr Fang said that Singapore could face the threat of foreign influence and provided a list of alternative media sites that he considered prone to foreign influence.
His list included The Independent Singapore, The Online Citizen, Temasek Review, the defunct States Times Review, and social media pages like All Singapore Stuff, Rilek1Corner, self-identified troll page NUSSU – NUS Students United.
Mr Fang called these sources “present day examples of possible foreign influence operations” and claimed that these sites have either received foreign funding or are managed or administrated by foreign individuals.
Speaking with Mothership.sg, Mr Fan added that while there is no evidence that these sites are agents of foreign influence, he believes they are prone to such vulnerabilities. He said: “So, to be quite clear, we wanted to establish that nothing has been proven that these guys are agents of foreign influence, or that they’re trying to carry out. I think we were quite careful to say that this represents a potential vulnerability.”
The Independent Singapore does not receive foreign funding. Under Singapore’s rules and regulations, a news website like The Independent must be managed by a Singaporean(s) who must declare his/her name to the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA).
There is no law that states such a publication cannot hire foreign writers – if this were the case, mainstream channels like The Straits Times and Channel NewsAsia (places where Mr Fang has worked) would not be able to employ foreign correspondents.
Curiously, all of the examples Mr Fang cited were websites or pages that can be critical of the Singapore Government. He omitted that pro-People’s Action Party (PAP) websites and pages can also be susceptible to foreign influence. One such page, the Critical Spectator which is run by a Polish national, was notably absent from Mr Fang’s list.
Noting the bias in the examples Mr Fang provided, administrators of the NUSSU – NUS Students United Facebook page said:
“…even though his points on activism are equally applicable to BOTH pro-PAP and anti-PAP media sites, he only chose to display examples of the latter. Maybe Nicholas is ill-informed, or maybe he is just ignorant of the online political media landscape (which speaks volumes when he heads a “factcheck” site).”
NUSSU also said it was strange that it was included in Mr Fang’s list since their administrators are clearly stated to be in Singapore and since they identify themselves as trolls instead of a news website.
NUSSU also provided a graph of major online political media sites colour-coded according to four categories – dark blue “anti-PAP” sites listed by Mr Fang, light-blue for anti-PAP sites omitted by Mr Fang, and light-red for pro-PAP sites omitted by Mr Fang, and green for troll pages:
Questioning Mr Fang’s motives in omitting the pro-PAP sites in his presentation, NUSSU said:
“Even though the dark and light blues account for the majority, the omitted pro-PAP sites account for a significant chunk as well. Why Nicholas omitted them is perplexing to say the least. If he is ignorant, then he should stop masquerading as an expert. If he is NOT ignorant, then his motives are questionable at best and malicious/nefarious at worst.
“Remember, foreign influence can influence BOTH pro-PAP and anti-PAP sites. The fact that you are pro-PAP doesn’t ipso facto render you immune to foreign influence.”