Discussion and conclusion

Table of Contents:

In summary, this chapter has argued that understanding Singapore’s resilience against populism — especially in the form of populists’ falsehoods and truth-making — needs to go beyond looking at the role of Singapore’s paternalistic state and strong institutions. While a top-down measure like POFMA indeed represents a manifest effort by the government to tackle falsehoods, erosion of trust, and populism through its conventionally authoritative approach, it is the latent qualities such its calibrated design and use of the law, its hyper-responsiveness to public reaction, and its engagement with criticisms that allow it to continue justifying its use of strong-handed measures at minimal political cost. This is crucial to solving the authoritarian dilemma in which an over-reliance on repression may instead backfire on the government’s legitimacy, erode the deep reservoir of trust that it has built with Singaporeans, and ironically allow a populist opposition to gain traction in the country.

Moving forward, scholarly work exploring the relationship between populism, misinformation, and social media can afford to pay greater attention to two aspects.

First, many of the existing studies have been focused on explicating how digital and social media affordances have augmented populist appeals and uncovering how populists have co-opted the digital space for their agenda, in order to explain the surge of populism around the world. However, Singapore’s POFMA is but one example of a global move towards tighter regulation of the digital space to combat its online harms. Thus, future research should look into the effectiveness of state regulation of the online space in stemming populists’ falsehoods and truth-making and how populists have been circumventing such controls or manipulating them to their advantage in response. This would give a more nuanced picture of rising populism in our age of digital media.

Second, as George (2007) pointed out in his concept of calibrated coercion, the process of introducing creative regulatory adaptions in response to new technologies is a key feature that determines the success of reducing the salience of coercive tactics. In other words, Singapore’s ability to safeguard itself against populists’ falsehoods and truth-making would depend not only on the government’s continued balance of being calibrated in the use of POFMA and remaining responsive to public reaction but also on its ability to recognise when appropriate adjustments need to be made in order to maintain popular support. Hence, scholars focusing on media and politics in Singapore should analyse the specificities of new situations that arise in future on their own terms and explore new theoretical concepts as older ones lose their relevance and adequacy as the landscape continues to evolve.

Note

1 A colloquial term for a female who behaves in an uncouth manner, is loud, and is often seen as ‘low-class’.

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