The rise of the Internet and the popularity of social media have generated increasing discussion on topics such as the future of privacy, freedom of expression, misinformation and disinformation, as well as maintaining social security and stability.
To comprehensively address these pressing issues, NUS will establish a new Centre for Trusted Internet and Community (CTIC) dedicated to the inter-disciplinary study of the Internet - including social and behavioural science research, digital technologies, data-driven approaches, and policy studies.
The centre will assess the Internet’s societal impact, and also conduct public education to inculcate a culture that prioritises facts over misinformation. It will begin operations on 1 April 2020.
CTIC will be led by computer scientist Professor Lee Mong Li as its Director, and communications and new media expert Professor Audrey Yue as its Deputy Director. Prof Lee and Prof Yue talk about the centre and what it aims to achieve.
Q: Why is this centre important?
Prof Lee: The Internet and social media have resulted in a rapidly evolving information ecosystem, introducing new challenges to organisations and communities. In the case of the recent COVID-19 outbreak, for example, there have been many false rumours circulating on social media about the virus, inciting fear and paranoia among people, and in some cases they can even accelerate the spread of the virus itself. When taken to extremes, rumours and false narratives can encourage xenophobic comments or finger-pointing, and deepen societal fissures.
Prof Yue: The centre will drive research on the challenges, issues and impact of Internet to the society of the future from across the domains of technology, people and policy, and provide credible, accessible sources of information that will facilitate responsible public discourse and improve the overall readiness of society to discern online harms. It will bring together a multidisciplinary team of experts, researchers, and practitioners, to tackle these issues, together with the stakeholders such as public, industry, and government.
Q: What social issues will this centre aim to address?
Prof Lee: CTIC aims to research and develop a set of insights, tools, policies, and best practices around the use of Internet, through the study of social media behaviour, persuasion, cognitive and psychological factors and how they shape the spread of information and misinformation, and the public understanding of these issues.
Q: Why is a multi-disciplinary approach important?
Prof Lee: The Internet has evolved as a unique social, economic, linguistic and technical phenomenon. Much of the developments in the technology of the Internet have impacted the way we create, consume and disseminate information on the Internet. Vice-versa, the way we use Internet has also influenced the technology development.
Take artificial intelligence (AI) for example, latest advancement in AI has brought about personalisation services on the Internet, such as recommendation systems, but it could also been used now to generate fake content on the Internet. It would therefore be incomplete to just examine and address the impact of the Internet from the technology or the human or policy aspect alone. Hence, we adopt a unique approach to Internet studies through three different and interconnected lenses – technology, human, and policy.
Prof Yue: We believe that CTIC is the first in the world to integrate social and behavioural science research, digital technology and data driven approaches, together with policy studies to study the Internet.
Q: How will this centre benefit Singaporeans?
Prof Yue: The insights gained from the research activities under the above three pillars will be integrated and applied to address the issues of public security, public discourse, and public education and resources.
For public security, the centre aims to generate a deep understanding of the various implications of the use of the Internet, such as how bias and misinformation can be weaponised, and the challenges of the digital divide. Under public discourse, it will develop technologies, policies and best practices to detect and mitigate misinformation. CTIC will also collaborate with stakeholders to build an ecosystem for responsible public discourse. Additionally, it aims to educate the public and inculcate a culture that prioritises facts over misinformation. The centre will host an online repository of commentaries written by academics and other subject matter experts, as well as organise talks and public lectures to increase public awareness on the use of the Internet, misinformation and digital well-being.
Prof Lee: The centre will also look to develop new data-driven solutions, insights and best practices to improve digital safety and wellbeing for Singaporeans, such as tools to help citizens gain digital literacy. The ability of all citizens to participate effectively online will lead to better civic engagement and social cohesion.
See press release.