Foreign interference includes attempts by foreign actors to manipulate domestic politics through covert and deceptive means, which undermines political sovereignty and harms social cohesion.
In the last few years, there have been many reports of alleged foreign interference in the elections of other countries, e.g. United States Presidential Election (2020), United States Mid-Term Elections (2018), French Presidential Elections (2017). Singapore is not immune. There is a need to guard against foreign actors who seek to manipulate Singapore’s domestic politics and interfere with elections outcomes. Singapore’s politics should be decided by Singaporeans alone.
Generally, the objective of foreign actors interfering in elections is to shape the sentiment and voting behaviour of the electorate in a manner consistent with the desired outcome of the foreign actor. It is often done through the coordinated use of covert and subversive means, including the following:
Disinformation refers to false information with intent to mislead, and often takes the form of deliberately distorted or fabricated news content. In the context of an election, disinformation could involve: (a) the manipulation of public opinion through misleading narratives about electoral processes; (b) attempts to confuse the public about electoral regulations and their enforcement; and (c) narratives that undermine trust in politics and institutions. Disinformation could also seek to stir up the electorate on socially divisive issues or developments of significant public interest, so as to sway public opinion about a candidate or affect a candidate’s electoral chances.
Sentiment amplification refers to the deliberate attempt to artificially inflate the spread and prominence of narratives which are useful for the foreign actor’s agenda. Such amplification could involve the coordinated use of fake accounts, cyber armies, trolls and bots. In the context of an election, the narratives inflated to prominence could consist of disinformation or false impressions of public opinion about political parties, candidates or campaign policies. The narratives could also contain inflammatory material which could result in impact on a candidate’s electoral chances, or even social division and polarisation, and public order and security risks.
Identity falsification is the creation of fake online identities for false-front interaction with target audiences. The objective is to create the impression of authentic behaviours and personas, so as to build a network of followers who could eventually become the vectors or targets of the foreign actor’s interference campaign.
Party or campaign financing
The funding of a candidate’s election campaign by foreign actors, whether directly or through a proxy, is an attempt to support and increase the chances of the party or candidate to be elected to power, which the foreign actor assesses to be in its interests.
Cultivation of political entities
This refers to a foreign actor’s covert cultivation of favourable relationships with particular electoral candidate(s). It could entail promises of business incentives (or the threat to withhold such), donations or titles, under the guise of purported legitimate platforms (e.g. academic titles, institutional linkages).
All Singaporeans should exercise individual vigilance, to safeguard the integrity of elections.
Candidates have a responsibility to raise their awareness of potential foreign interference threats, improve digital literacy, and be on the alert for suspicious behaviours and hidden agendas. They are also recommended to take the following precautions:
Should any candidate suspect that they are the target of foreign interference activities, they should make a police report and keep the Elections Department informed. For further information on foreign interference, visit the Ministry of Home Affairs' Introduction to Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act (FICA) webpage.