Credit: Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Credit: Association of Southeast Asian Nations

ASEAN Ministers jointly declare framework to combat fake news

On 10 May, Singapore hosted the 14th Conference of the ASEAN Ministers Responsible for Information (AMRI) and the 15th Conference of ASEAN Plus Three Ministers Responsible for Information (5th AMRI+3) at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.

The Conference was chaired by H.E. S. Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information of Singapore with H.E. Kobsak Pootrakool, Minister Attached to the Prime Minister's Office of Thailand as Vice Chair.

Minister Iswaran shared his hopes for the development of a Digital ASEAN that is inclusive and where multi-stakeholder groups can come together to help citizens to be better prepared for the digital future. Minister Iswaran also noted that an inclusive and informed Digital ASEAN reinforces this year’s chairmanship theme of building collective resilience and promoting innovation among member countries.

Combating Fake News

Social media enables information to be created and exchanged at an unprecedented scale and speed. This has brought benefits to a large number of people in our societies, as information can be accessed and shared easily.

The creation of information on social media is decentralised, unlike on traditional media structured around licensed media organisations. While content is more immediate and better reflect the diversity of views and interests in society, the quality of content varies as creators are not necessarily subject to traditional regulation or journalistic standards. One key challenge is the use of social media as a platform for the promulgation of fake news.

Noting that the issue of fake news, especially on social media platforms, is a growing challenge globally, the ASEAN Ministers agreed that there was a need for regional bloc to collaborate and exchange best practices in combatting fake news and mitigating its harmful effects.

The ASEAN Ministers endorsed the Framework and Joint Declaration to Minimise the Harmful Effect of Fake News which would provide a common frame of reference for ASEAN member states to strengthen cooperation, share ideas, and propose viable solutions to address the proliferation of fake news and its negative impact, for the benefit of the people of ASEAN.

The Framework seeks to:

(1) Provide a common frame of reference for ASEAN member states to strengthen cooperation, share ideas, collectively address the proliferation of fake news and its negative impact, and propose lasting solutions to the benefit of the ASEAN Community;

(2) Build on the discussions and concerns arising from the AMRI Roundtable Discussion on Fake News and Communicating the Right Information. To this end, Singapore also intends to organise a workshop so that ASEAN member states can share best practices and experiences concerning fake news countermeasures;

(3) Promote awareness of the problems caused by fake news to the peoples of ASEAN and fostering a commitment to prevent the dangers of fake news; and

(4)  Encourage ASEAN member states to stand united against fake news whilst individual AMS adopt measures according to its specific national circumstances, laws and regulations.

According to the Joint Declaration on the Framework to Minimise the Harmful Effects of Fake News, ASEAN Ministers reaffirmed the need to address the proliferation of fake news and its negative impact to ensure that the Internet remains a reliable source of information and a safe space for all users. They also highlighted the need to continue the sharing of best practices among ASEAN member states on sensitising citizens to the harmful effects of fake news. At the same time, they recognised that countermeasures against fake news must respect national sovereignty and the central role of governments, and be implemented nationally according to the political and social circumstances of individual ASEAN member states.

The Framework also suggests the following four broad strategies which member states tailor according to their unique circumstances:

(1)    Education and Awareness

The first line of defence has to be a discerning and well-informed public that is able to detect fake news when it is presented to them. There must also be awareness of the dangers posed by fake news, and specifically awareness on the responsible creation and dissemination of information. The Core Values on Digital Literacy, aimed at creating an Internet that is safe and conducive for online engagements also supports this cause, and is a key complement to this strategy. There must also be efforts to educate the public to be responsible when creating and disseminating information.

(2)    Detection and Response

The detection of and response towards fake news is the responsibility of everyone, including governments, organisations and private individuals. Governments should conduct regular monitoring of news and issues and quickly act on information that requires clarification. This requires strong and trusted government communications. Organisations and media can contribute by fact-checking content and adhering to a strict code of ethics.

(3)    Norms and Guidelines

The creation of norms and guidelines will empower and protect citizens in their consumption of information in the new media and will also promote responsible generation and sharing of online information. In addition, civil society, telecoms and media organisations and other private companies could contribute towards developing industry norms and guidelines against fake news. While some countries have opted to develop legislative responses to fake news, each country is encouraged to consider their own circumstances for the creation of laws, norms and/or guidelines.

(4)    Community and Ground Up Participation

Cooperation between the government and citizenry is important in the timely detection of fake news. Citizens who actively report fake news allow governments to issue clarifications efficiently. In addition, civil society groups are also key in spreading digital literacy and awareness of the dangers posed by fake news to the wider community, and may improve community participation in minimising the spread of fake news. They may also be useful advocates for community centred norms and guidelines when dealing with fake news.

At the conference, the ASEAN Ministers also endorsed the ASEAN Communication Master Plan for 2018–2025 (ACMP-II) which would be surfaced to the ASEAN Community Council for adoption. Under the overarching theme of “ASEAN: A Community of Opportunities for All”, the ACMP-II will support ASEAN’s efforts in implementing all three ASEAN Community Blueprints to communicate the character of ASEAN as “people-oriented and people-centred”.

The Ministers agreed to convene the 15th AMRI and its Related Meetings with Dialogue Partners in Thailand in 2020.

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