Discussion and conclusion
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.
1 A colloquial term for a female who behaves in an uncouth manner, is loud, and is often seen as ‘low-class’.
Abts, K & Rummens, S 2007. Populism versus democracy. Political Studies, 55(2), pp. 405—424.
Brubaker, R 2017. Why populism? Theory and Society, 46(5), pp. 357—385.
DeVreese, CH, Esser, F, Aalberg, T, Reinemann, C & Stanyer, J 2018. Populism as an expression of political communication content and style: A new perspective. The InternationalJournal of Press/Politics, 23(4), pp. 423-438.
Dittrich, PJ 2017. Social networks and populism in the EU. Available at www.delorscentre.eu/en/publica tions/detail/publication/social-networks-and-populism-in-the-eu-a-comparative-study/ (Accessed 27 January 2020).
Engesser, S, Ernst, N, Esser, F & Biichel, F 2017. Populism and social media: How politicians spread a fragmented ideology'. Information, Communication & Society, 20(8), pp. 1109—1126.
Engesser, S, Fawzi, N & Larsson, AO 2017. Populist online communication: Introduction to the special issue. Information, Communication & Society, 20(9), pp. 1279—1292.
Flew, T & losifidis, P 2020. Populism, globalisation and social media. International Communication Gazette, 82(1), pp. 7-25.
George, C 2007. Consolidating authoritarian rule: Calibrated coercion in Singapore. The Pacific Review, 20(2), pp. 127-145.
George, C 2019. Disinformation: A debate that needs to be better informed. Freedom from the Press blog, blog post, 7 October. Available at: https://blog.freedomfromthepress.info/2019/l0/07/disinforma tion-2/ (Accessed 1 March 2020).
Gerbaudo, P 2014. Populism 2.0: Social media activism, the generic Internet userand interactive direct democracy. In D Trottier & C Fuchs (eds), Social media, politics and the state: Protests, revolutions, riots, crime and policing in the age of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, pp. 79—99. Routledge, London.
Guest, P 2019. Singapore says it’s fighting fake news. Journalists see a ruse. The Atlantic, 19 July. Available at: www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/07/singapore-press-freedom/592039/ (Accessed 1 March 2020).
Habermas, J 1989. The structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.
Heurlin, C 2016. Responsive authoritarianism in China. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Jansen, RS 2011. Populist mobilization: A new theoretical approach to populism. Sociological Theory, 29(2), pp. 75—96.
Kho, KRG 2019. Behavioural biases and identity in social media: The case of Philippine populism, President Dutertes rise, and ways forward. Available at: https://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/handle/10635/154272 (Accessed 17 February 2020).
Klinger, U & Svensson, J 2015. The emergence of network media logic in political communication: A theoretical approach. New Media & Society, /7(8), pp. 1241—1257.
Kruikemeier, S, Van Noort, G, Vliegenthart, R & DeVreese, CH 2013. Getting closer: The effects of personalized and interactive online political communication. European Journal of Communication, 28(), pp. 53—66.
Laclau, E 2005. On populist reason. Verso Books, New York.
Lee, P 2016. The real Singapore trial: Co-founder Yang Kaiheng controlled bulk of ad revenue earnings.
The Straits Times, 25 June. Available at: www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-cnme/co-founder-controlled-bulk-of-the-ad-revenue-earmngs (Accessed 27 January 2020).
Loh, D 2020. Singapore deputy PM warns opposition on exploiting social splits. Nikkei Asian Review, 20 January. Available at: https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Smgapore-deputy-PM-warns-opposition-on-exploitmg-social-splits (Accessed 27 January 2020).
Maldonado, MJ 2017. Rethinking populism in the digital age: Social networks, political affects and posttruth democracies. Available at: https://riuma.uma.es/xmlui/handle/10630/14500 (Accessed 27 January 2020).
Marquis, C & Bird Y 2018. The paradox of responsive authoritarianism: How civic activism spurs environmental penalties in China. Organization Science, 29(5), pp. 948—968.
Means, GP 1996. Soft authoritarianism in Malaysia and Singapore. Journal of Democracy, 7(4), pp. 103—117.
Moffitt, В & Tormey, S 2014. Rethinking populism: Politics, médiatisation and political style. Political studies, 62(2), pp. 381-397.
Mohktar, F 2019. Fake news laws narrow, rather than extend, Governments powers: Law ministry. TODAY, 2 May. Available at: www.todayonline.com/singapore/fake-news-laws-narrow-rather-extends-governments-powers-law-ministry (Accessed 1 March 2020).
Momoc, A 2018. Populism 2.0, digital democracy and the new ‘enemies of the people’. Communication Today, 9(1), pp. 58-77.
Mudde, C 2004. The populist Zeitgeist. Government and Opposition, 39(4), pp. 541—563.
Mudde, C & Kaltwasser, CR 2017. Populism: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Müller, J W 2016. What is populism? Penguin Books UK, London.
Newman, N, Fletcher, R, Kalogeropoulos, A & Nielsen, R 2018. Reuters institute digital news report 2018, Reuters institute for the study of journalism. Available at: www.digitalnewsreport.org/ (Accessed 6 March 2020).
Norris, P & Inglehart, R 2016. Trump, Brexit, and the rise of populism: Economic have-nots and cultural backlash. Harvard JFK School of Government Faculty Working Papers Series, pp. 1—52.
Papacharissi, Z 2002. The virtual sphere: The internet as a public sphere. New Media & Society, 4(1), pp. 9-27.
Postill, J 2018. Populism and social media: A global perspective. Media, Culture & Society, 40(5), pp. 754—765.
Qiaoan, R & Teets, JC 2020. Responsive authoritarianism in China: A review of responsiveness in Xi and Hu administrations. Journal of Chinese Political Science, 25(1), pp. 139—153.
Repmkova, M 2017. Media politics in China: Improvising power under authoritarianism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Schroeder, R 2019. Digital media and the entrenchment of right-wing populist agendas. Social Media+ Society, 5(4), pp. 1—11.
Shanmugam, К 2019. Second reading speech by Minister for Law, К Shanmugam on The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill. Available at: www.mlaw.gov.sg/news/parhamentary-speeches/second-reading-speech-by-minister-for-law-k-shanmugam-on-the-protection-from-online-falsehoods-and-mampulation-bill (Accessed 27 January 2020).
Sullivan, S & Costa, R 2020. Trump and Sanders leading competing populist movements, reshaping American politics. The Washington Post, 2 March. Available at: www.washingtonpost.com/poh-tics/2020/03/02/two-populist-movements-sanders-trump (Accessed 13 March 2020).
Sunstem, CR 2018. # Republic: Divided democracy in the age of social media. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.
Taggart, P 2004. Populism and representative politics in contemporary Europe. Jot irnal of Political Ideologies, 9(3), pp. 269-288.
Tan, K P 2017. Resisting authoritarian populism: Lessons from and for Singapore. TODAY, 22 May. Available at: www.todayonlme.com/commentary/resistmg-authoritarian-populism-lessons-and-smgapore (Accessed 28 February 2020).
Tee, Z 2019. PAP must not allow split between masses and elite to take root, says PM Lee Hsien Loong. The Straits Times, 10 November. Available at: www.straitstimes.com/pohtics/pap-convention-pap-must-not-allow-split-between-masses-and-elite-to-take-root-says-pm-lee (Access 27 January 2020).
Teets, JC 2013. Let many civil societies bloom: The rise of consultative authoritarianism in China. The China Quarterly, 213, pp. 19—38.
Tham, YC 2019. Government makes initial decision on falsehood but courts are final arbiter of truth: Shanmugam. The Straits Times, 2 April. Available at: www.straitstimes.com/politics/govt-makes-mitial-decision-on-falsehood-but-courts-are-final-arbiter-of-truth-k-shanmugam (Accessed 27 January 2020).
Thompson, M 2017. Enough said: What’s gone wrong with the language of politics? St. Martin’s Press, New York.
Tufekci, Z 2020. How the coronavirus revealed authoritarianism’s fatal flaw, The Atlantic, 22 February. Available at: www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2020/02/coronavirus-and-blindness-authori tarianism/606922/ (Accessed 6 March 2020).
Vaccari, C & Valeriam, A 2015. Follow the leader! Direct and indirect flows of political communication during the 2013 Italian general election campaign. New Media & Society, pp. 1025—1042.
Vaswani, K 2019. Concern over Singapore’s anti-fake news law. BBC, 4 April. Available at: www.bbc. com/news/business-47782470 (Accessed 6 March 2020).
Ware, A 2002. The United States: Populism as political strategy. In Y Meny & Y Surel (eds), Democracies and the populist challenge, pp. 101—119. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Yong, C 2017. ‘Drift towards populism ‘not inevitable’: DPM Tharman. The Straits Times, 8 January. Available at: www.straitstimes.com/singapore/dnft-towards-populism-not-mevitable (Accessed 27 January 2020).