Singapore's Catholic Church is teaming up with the city state's government and social media giants Facebook, Google, Twitter and TikTok to enhance the online presence of religious and community organizations and fight online radicalization.
The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth of Singapore launched the pilot project on June 26 amidst concerns about cyber indoctrination. The project will feature three workshops by tech firms from June to August to aid religious organizations in boosting their online presence and guide users on radicalization content on the Internet.
According to UCA News, religious organizations that have signed up for the project are the Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, the National Council of Churches in Singapore, the Taoist Foundation and the Hindu Endowments Board. Minister of State for Culture Alvin Tan recognizes how the pandemic has forced people to spend more time online, which places them at risk for exposure to divisive content on different social media platforms.
"While social media has the power to divide, it also has the power to unite," Tan said during the announcement of the new initiative to combat online radicalization. "Our technology partners are working with us to positively influence online spaces so that we can grow common ground in our community."
Religious groups in Singapore agree that using technology to combat online radicalization can help people become aware of the content that they consume on a daily basis. The workshops will help these religious groups in educating and informing people, especially the youth by using tools they are already familiar with, such as Instagram and TikTok to help them make better, more informed decisions about the content they consume, especially when it's about race and religion. The workshop also aims to teach audiences how to report extremist and malicious content.
International Christian Concern's Regional Manager for Southeast Asia Gina Goh, who lamented the increased use of online platforms during the pandemic, told the Christian Post, "Unfortunately, extremism finds its entry to the internet users' minds if the latter lack the ability to discern. Left unchecked, people will be radicalized and encouraged to take action against religious venues or people of faith."
Roses for Peace ambassador Abbas Ali Mohamed Anas told the Straits Times that now more than ever, it is important to provide "proper guidance and information" to the youth to help them "navigate this digital space" wherein they constantly "face the risk of online radicalization and hate speech."
The decision of churches in Singapore and the local government to use technology to combat online radicalization is believed to have been caused by multiple cases of cyber-radicalism being reported in recent years.
UCA News reported that in January, the Singaporean Internal Security Department (ISD) arrested a 16 year old Christian who plotted attacks on two mosques and was heavily influenced by Australian Brenton Tarrant's extremist ideology. Tarrant was known to have killed about 50 worshippers in Christchurch in 2019. The ISD also arrested a 20 year old Singaporean Muslim soldier for planning to stab at least three Jews at a synagogue.