“The Internet makes it more difficult for governments to govern today.” How far do you agree with this statement?

Author: Chirin Soh
School: Raffles Institution
Year Written: 2020
Grade: A

In 2018, Singapore’s health database was the target of a deliberate and well-planned attack. It is one of the major data breaches of the Singapore government with personal data of over 1.5 million patients stolen by hackers. Singapore has always prided itself on its security and safety. As it moves towards being a SmartNation, the Singapore government and that of others all around the world need to be aware of the increased threats present due to the connectivity of the Internet. The Internet poses more problems in governance as there are more chances for crime, fake news can spread more easily and there is a platform for people to voice their opinions freely.

The Internet presents more opportunities for criminals to commit crimes. Criminal entrepreneurs make use of modern technology of Internet to commit crimes with greater ease. They are able to hide behind a screen to remain anonymous and prevent their identity from being revealed. Money laundering has grown tenfold since 1990, reaching around $1-$1.5 trillion today. There is also a rise in cyber crimes such as online credit card fraud and cyber predators. Figures show that 4 billion is lost in credit card fraud, and an FBI report showed that 90% of 500 companies surveyed reported security breach and 80% financial loss. The Internet has also facilitated illicit trade by increasing the ease of communication between organisation. The rise of cryptocurrencies has further added to its appeal to criminals since they can keep their identities and purchase histories hidden. This makes it more difficult for governments to track down and put a stop to these illegal activities. Law enforcement becomes a challenge and governments need to find new ways to infiltrate the underground markets. Much personal data is also put online and made vulnerable to hackers. In addition to the Singhealth data breach, the medical records of 14200 HIV positive people have also been illegally disclosed online by deported American fraudster Brochez. Hence, governments need to step up cyber security and put in extra measures to maintain security and privacy of its citizens.

The Internet also propagates fake news that makes it hard for governments to control. Fake news have the ability to incite fear and public alarm in society. The fake report of a roof collapse at a housing board in Punggol on online site SG stuff caused panic in many residents. Grassroot leaders, as well as SPF and SCDF rushed down to the site only to find that it was a hoax. This is just an example of a harmless prank that simply causes trouble and annoyance to people. In more serious cases, fake news can be used to manipulate people and draw divides in the society. There was an incident in Germany where news of an immigrant raping a girl (Lisa F) sparked widespread protest and flash points as the far-right used it to fuel anti-immigrant sentiment. While the event was later discovered to be fabricated, the ramifications had already caused widespread panic and even hatred between communities. Fake news has also influenced results of presidential campaigns and important referendums, undermining the democratic process. An analysis showed that in the US presidential campaign, fake news articles received more engagement than those from reliable outlets. They could swing voters by spreading misinformation about the government to create tension between the government and people. With technology rapidly advancing such as the rise of deepfakes, where people manage to alter an existing photo or video through artificial means, governments have been stepping up measures to prevent fake news from causing more problems to society. It is an additional challenge that they need to overcome to maintain the harmony and their own integrity. This is done through fake news laws such as the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Bill in Singapore or the Against Information Manipulation law in France. Governments also put pressure on big technological companies to put measures to combat fake information.

The diversity of views on the Internet also makes it harder for the government to govern today. Social media has proved itself a powerful tool of expressing oneself. It is a platform for one to say almost anything and connect with others with similar views. Its great impact can be seen in how it helped in toppling authoritarian governments during the Arab Spring Revolution. With the rise of Internet, people will become more exposed to views outside of their country and begin to question the status quo, threatening the position of the governments in power. Governments hence need to either quench those views or find a way to gain the trust of the people. The range of views online also include extremist beliefs that tend to result in terrorism. ISIS is known to recruit from online and they feed on the dissatisfaction and dissent against authority. Things can be easily obscured on the dark web so the detection of radicalised individuals are not often done soon enough, hence the extremist ideology spreads. Some governments attempt to clamp down on the freedom of speech on the Internet to maintain the social fabric. For example, The Great Firewall of China bans any information that challenges or expresses discontent with the regime in power. However, this is not always successful because citizens end up finding a way to get around it, such as through the downloading of VPNs. The variety of opinions is something that the governments need to deal with in governance through ensuring that everyone feels like they have a voice and are heard. They also need to ensure that differing views are not offensive and will not result in faultlines or conflicts between different groups in the community.

However, the Internet has a wide outreach and can be of assistance to governments in governing. For instance, the Internet can help in sharing information to the public. The Singapore government uses the Internet and social media for its campaign such as in preventing diabetes or curbing gambling addiction. They are able to reach out to their target audience very effectively. The Internet is also often used to  conduct surveys and gather opinions of people. It has become more convenient to receive feedback from the people through online means then by traditional methods of stopping people on the streets or going door to door. With more voices heard from the people, better decisions can be made and the country will be a better democracy. There is also the rise of E-voting in countries like Estonia and Canada. This makes voting convenient and accessible to more people, increasing the voter turn out rate. It also benefits the people as they are able to change their votes as many times as they would like until the final moment. Hence, there are advantages brought to governments by the Internet that aid them in governing.

To conclude, the Internet has become an integral part of our everyday life, bringing in greater convenience and accessibility to citizens. However, it has generated more problems that the government has to deal with such as increased chance for crimes, fake news and diverse views. This has made it more difficult for governments to govern today. They must hence learn to navigate these new waters and adapt to the changing times to continue to fulfill the needs of the people, as well as to maintain the security and social harmony of society.