(New York, Sep 24, 2019) Singapore is particularly susceptible to external influences and social media has altered the way people communicate, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in New York.

He made the remarks in a speech when accepting an award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, a New York-based interfaith group, which promotes mutual acceptance and respect.

PM Lee makes a speech at the Appeal of Conscience Foundation Annual Awards Dinner in New York on 23 September 2019

Lee said every racial and religious group in Singapore has extensive links with larger communities abroad belonging to the same race or the same faith.

“With globalization, these links have blossomed. They enrich our society and allow us to learn from others, but they can also import disputes and troubles from other lands that will undermine our social cohesion,” he said.

He said social media has altered the way people communicate. It helps provocative views to circulate and gain currency. Charismatic, radical preachers have built followings in the tens of millions online.

Therefore, a single offensive or thoughtless post that goes viral can be seen by millions within a few hours and create a tense situation when all was peace and calm the night before. It has become dangerously easy for people both to cause offense and also to take umbrage.

“We must not allow those who spread toxic views and poison on the Internet to get away with what may literally be murder. Policing the Internet is a Sisyphean task, but we must keep our laws updated, and devise fresh and effective countermeasures,” PM Lee said.

Singapore has recently passed a new law – the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) – which gives the Government and the courts powers to require the correction of misinformation and falsehoods online, to take action against those who deliberately spread such untruths, and to deal with websites that give them a platform to do so, the Prime Minister said.

“It is a problem which many countries are grappling with, this is our approach to it. We continue to learn from others, and maybe other people will find something interesting in the way we have decided to tackle our problem.”

During the awarding ceremony, former United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger read the citation. The 96-year US diplomat was called by PM Lee a great and long-time friend of Singapore and a close friend of Lee’s father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Previous awardees by the Appeal of Conscience Foundation include former British Prime Minister David Cameron and former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono among other world leaders.