Blinkered MDA worried that media consumers may trust the internet

The reporter pointed out to me that the survey found that “35% of respondents believe that all, if not most, of information on the Internet is true,” and asked what I thought of that.

I clicked the hyperlink he had provided to the survey results and was momentarily perplexed. To me, the graph seemed quite normal, with a bunching of answers around the middle. The vast majority thought that information on the internet was partly or mostly true — which, if you’re an internet user, would seem like a very reasonable assessment. So why was the reporter’s question phrased the way it was?

Taking the data from a table in the report and converting them into bar graphs:

These figures came from the Consumer experience study 2011 commissioned by Media Development Authority (MDA), and conducted by the Singapore Internet Research Centre, Nanyang Technological University.

However, the reporter’s question was led by the headline that MDA gave to the above data — the headline screamed “About 35% of respondents believe that most or all of the information . . . are true” — and which implied a wholly different way of looking at the results. Presented graphically (by me), this was how the bureaucrats saw the data:

That’s a rather strange way of slicing the data, isn’t it?

The remark tells us less about the data than about the mindset. It suggests a mindset that holds as incontrovertible truth the following dictum: If internet users trust most (or, in the case of a few respondents, all) of what they read as truthful, these people must have taken leave of good sense and reality. Just as evolution never happened, this cannot possibly be. The internet just is not truthful. How can people believe that??? And so many of them!!!

Here’s justification then for a new campaign towards “media literacy”. Singaporeans must be taught to stop believing the internet.

As for television . . .

Yet, even higher percentages believe television news and documentaries “show a true picture of what really happened”. Here is the relevant page from the report put out by the MDA (click image for a larger version):

Of viewers aged 15 to 29, about 60 – 70 percent of them thought that documentaries and news on TV were believably true. This, if you would please note, is nearly twice as high as the 35% who thought internet information to be mostly or wholly true. Yet the headline that the MDA gave to the 60 – 70 percent result sounded downcast, describing these age cohorts as “relatively more critical”.

So, 60 – 70 percent holding TV news as true is disappointing to the authorities, but 35% holding internet information as mostly true is shockingly wrong.

Doesn’t this tell us more about warped government minds than about ordinary people? If there’s anything to be shocked about, it is that 60 – 70 percent of viewers think so highly of TV — and that’s the lower end, with higher percentages among older adults.

Pre-digested report

The most annoying thing about the report published by the MDA is how (and the above is just one example) it is presented as pre-digested information, with no link to the survey data, and no discussion of its own limitations. It tells us for example that it was a face-to-face survey based on 1,030 respondents “aligned” with 2010 census profile. Then there were also focus group discussions. But it does not discuss margins of error, or the possible skewing from face-to-face interviews as opposed to anonymous surveys, or declare which results came from surveys and which were drawn from focus groups discussions. Nor does it tell us when exactly the survey was conducted. This is important because there were several key events in 2011, e.g. general election, presidential election, that would have affected the context.

Much of the information was presented in the form of bar graphs, with no notation as to the precise number or percentage represented by any bar. See for example, this one (click for a larger version) that I have taken from a page in the report:

In the above graph, the headline focuses on a relatively minor detail, represented by the short blue bars. It does not capture the essence represented by the taller red and green bars. Furthermore, look at the four bars relating to the age group 60 – 65 years. They do not add up to 100 percent.  This cries out for explanation, but there is none.

In the first set of figures behind the bar graph that I drew for the top of this article, there is a mysterious statement saying 13 percent or 14 percent “N.A.” with no explanation what N.A. means or why.

This kind of cavitied presentation,  dumbing down and slanted commentary does not leave a good impression.


A few days ago, the Singapore government launched a new section on its official website intended to provide “answers to hot topics as part of its ‘myth busting’ initiatives”, reported AsiaOne (Source). According to a spokesman for the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica), the section, called Factually, is meant to be “a convenient, central and credible platform” for a summary of key facts on various policies.

Going by the kind of reports put out by the MDA such as described above, I think they need to work on their own credibility.

17 Responses to “Blinkered MDA worried that media consumers may trust the internet”

  1. 1 yuen 23 September 2012 at 14:54

    >60 – 70 percent holding TV news as true is disappointing to the authorities, but 35% holding internet information as mostly true is shockingly wrong

    I dont find this unreasonable; TV news is produced by qualified journalists. Even when they have an agenda, they do maintain certain standards; internet information is not in the same situation

    the more interesting issue is what MDA does with this result; to use the lower credibility of internet information and 35% of readers’ trust despite it, to justify some kind of re-education effort, is stretching things; it shows a greater keenness to re-educate people than I find useful

    in the mean time, how many % believe the content of Straits Times to be all or mostly true? I myself would answer “mostly” if an survey guy comes to ask – I always found ST’s news coverage to be reasonable, but the local commentary unenlightening – but would guess in any survey the ST “mostly” % to be less than the internet “mostly” %.

  2. 2 Xu 23 September 2012 at 15:24

    Singapore’s very own Ministry of Truth…

  3. 3 Lye Khuen Way 23 September 2012 at 16:01

    Credibility and Integrity seem to be the must-have qualities of late. Good.

    It will take a fair while for me to buy in all the not-so-clear data that they care to release. Yes, care to release.

  4. 4 Norm 23 September 2012 at 20:25

    It is the same old story. Singaporeans cannot be trusted to discern what is right or wrong. Certainly not what is good for them. So the government must control the free flow of information and opinions. Views propagated by influential people (other than the government) are particularly to be feared. As is the Internet, which is so hard to control.

  5. 5 TAP 23 September 2012 at 20:35

    Good article.

  6. 6 Jack Lee 23 September 2012 at 22:10

    Why is there no option for “No” in the poll?

    MDA is run by morons.

  7. 7 Rushifa A Rushifa A 24 September 2012 at 06:32

    With that many lies And censorship floating on MSM, big surprise there. Their risk of exposure increases with every propaganda piece.They will try their best to potray the Internet as the new devil. Truth is always poison for liars.It’s a great coincidence that the net has generally been critical of them. You have to wonder if they would be demonifying it if cyberspace were praising them to the sky. They don’t want people to read about ,for example, how amnesty int has pleaded with them on human rights, our actually standing globally in welfare, savings, corruption, you name it. China and Russian adopts a similar doctrine

  8. 8 Chow 24 September 2012 at 09:15

    I know of some people working in the Cuvil Service and I will say that sometimes, this sort of surveys and analysis are conducted and written up by a rank and file employee without much statistical training or scientific training. Since this report was apparently carried out by an instituitions affiliated to a university, I would have expected more of it than what is presented. On the other hand, it is likely that the final report was heavily edited before being put out in its current form by MDA. Oh well, this is the probably the justification of the emergence of a myth busting website called Factually.

  9. 9 Chow 24 September 2012 at 09:27

    And just one more thing, reading the report left me totally underwhelmed. That’s the sort of survey and report I would expect to see from a ‘noob’. No analysis, no error bars, no discussion, no nothing. Just excel formatted charts in pretty colours and nice fonts. I certainly hope they didn’t pay the contractors a lot… That’s the problem with our news and commissioned surveys, the is hardly ever any commentary and what there is of it is meatless. Nothing for you to think and ruminate upon.

  10. 10 Fake Facts 24 September 2012 at 10:00

    Please don’t lend legitimacy to those mushroom propaganda websites by linking to them. Don’t provide free publicity and never link to them. Let’s just let them die a natural death instead of examining those “facts” or “hard truths” as some might want dumb people to see them. The more the government tries to emphasize that these are “facts” the more wary one has to be of these distortions.

  11. 12 Anon 7Yu9 24 September 2012 at 11:00

    I believe Internet is all true. I visit only, and yawning bread, and I believe 100% that they are all true. Is the reporter not happy with my response?

  12. 13 Chanel 24 September 2012 at 11:46

    Any wonder why this government is extremely fearful of having a Freedom of Information Act??? The ruling party is very afraid of letting the people know the truths….not the “hard truths” espoused by LKY, but the REAL Truths.

    Even a developing country like India has it !!

  13. 14 henry 24 September 2012 at 12:09

    The majority of people ( worldwide included) are not trained or do not have competent understanding of statistics. Terms such as “margin of error” and even “sample size” have absolutely no meaning.

    Now days, media is mostly visual ( unlike radio which is aural ) especially the internet. Graphical interpretation of statistics if well presented in colours and interactive capabilities is well received. Who cares about accuracy, errors, sample size and source??

    Stock brokers maybe, with their technical analysis ( which is actually statistics really).

    And the media knows how the public appreciates a quick view and summary. Astute people are few and may be confined to academia, business owners and of course the politicians.

    I myself am not trained in statistics and would accept or at least have no question or challenges to make. It takes a little more effort to think deeper with a corresponding question that is phrased accurately.. Phrase it poorly and the answer goes awry or it goes circular. I suspect this is the “daftness” that is referred to.

    Yet, it is people like you who we need in this time. People with a conviction to educate, to raise questions that elicit deeper thinking. It is a tedious task.
    I wonder why in our midst, all the intelligentsia are silent or muted. Surely they can see the flaws.

    I am glad that the internet offers alternate views. It is for me to decide who and what is the truth. For the time being, I appreciate your work in identifying the issues that you feel is important. It has been educational and I wish you to continue.

    Thank you, Mr Aw.

  14. 15 patriot 25 September 2012 at 00:08

    State or the so-called Main Medias are just full of propaganda to me.
    At least the New Media has lot more semblance to the happenings that
    I get to see and hear.

    To me; the State Medias have gone into overdrive of late, churning out
    lots of too good to believe news. I think even the blind and the deaf find hard to believe all.


  15. 16 ithadtobeyoublog 27 September 2012 at 12:21

    So the public is stupid for believing the stuff they read online? They cannot make up their own minds on what’s credible and what’s not? Just like how you censor films for us poor folk who don’t know what is right and what is wrong according to your very own guidelines?

  16. 17 Real Madrid 4 October 2012 at 04:11

    A certain SM once talked about Pavlov’s conditioning experiment. This sort of thinking must be quite prevalent among the MDA senior people. In a previous immatured past, maybe the population’s thinking can be conditioned. But in the internet era, people are now smarter and any answers to any questions can be googled.

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