A former news editor and presenter, and Nominated Member of Parliament from 2012 to 2014, Nicholas Fang started Black Dot Research in 2018; it is related to his strategic communications consultancy Black Dot, which uses market research methods to deliver key consumer insights.
Black Dot Research is where he and his team provides fact-checking as an independent entity, as their “social responsibility to help guard against the rising threat of fake news and online misinformation”. Fang is also the director of security and global affairs at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and recently moderated the In Conversation with President Barack Obama event in Singapore.
Singaporeans have avoided becoming a target of misinformation but this doesn’t mean we are immune to this threat
“I saw as a critical need to better understand social trends and sentiment present in our society. We have seen how misinformation and disinformation campaigns can impact outcomes of elections and referenda, as well as social cohesion in different countries around the world. During our research work, we observed there was a significant amount of fake news circulating online that sought to affect and shift public opinion in Singapore on key issues. What’s more, many of these attempts at disinformation appeared to be gaining traction or at least were being shared widely. As avenues to acquire truthful information become reduced with Singaporeans increasingly dependent on other channels such as WhatsApp and Telegram, our society can become more vulnerable.”
It’s not possible to fact-check everything
“We usually focus on stories relevant to Singapore, and that have potential to cause a seismic shift in public perception on important topics in the country. Increasingly, we focus on stories that threaten national security and stability. These can be deployed by individuals, groups and organisations or even other governments. As a trained journalist, I firmly believe that the mandate of traditional media such as newspapers, as well as their established SOPs and processes, go a long way to ensure that what is reported is accurate and objective.”
Developing critical thinking requires commitment
“Organisations, including the government, should focus on spreading awareness and educating society on the threat of fake news. Such mindset shifts could take a generation to effect and I am grateful that A Magazine took the effort to feature a story on it. Cultivating critical thinking and emotional scepticism also requires time and effort among individuals; this has become harder given our busy lives, among other things.”
Black Dot Research wants to contribute to a more informed and activated citizenry
“We continue to refine the way we present our fact-checks to ensure they are attractive and accessible to as broad an audience as possible. But we won’t rush to produce pieces that appeal to shortened attention spans (which are becoming a norm). We want to produce work that’s comprehensive, with reliable sources and references so readers can also check for themselves if they wish to. We do not want to be the arbiter of truth, nor do we present ourselves as possessing a ‘black box’ solution. Ultimately, the aim should be to develop a culture and environment where people have the skills, experience and instincts to tell for themselves.”
This story is part of a series on Singapore’s modern visionaries. To read others in the series, click here.
This story first appeared in the January/February issue of A Magazine.