This week, the Singapore government tabled the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill in Parliament in its bid to tackle the proliferation of fake news within the digital space.

The government said that the purpose of introducing the bill is to protect the society from damages caused by deliberate online falsehoods and against malicious actors spreading harmful falsehoods. Under the proposed law, deliberate online falsehoods will refer to any statement of fact that is false or misleading. In contrast, the government asserts that opinions, criticism, satire or parody will not fall under the jurisdiction of the law.

In the event that a minister determines that the deliberate online falsehood is (i) a false statement of fact; and (ii) the falsehood is against public interest, the law provides the minister with the power to take actions against the alleged offender. Such actions include issuing corrections to the alleged offender, ordering internet service providers and social media platforms to remove the content.

The law also includes economic and criminal sanctions against repeat and malicious actors who respectively make use of digital tools to conduct misinformation campaigns for their own financial gains or to prejudice public interests.

The government believes that by introducing the measures above, it will uphold the quality of information and debates in the public sphere.

Read the full article on CNA: Singapore proposes multi-pronged law to combat online falsehoods

Analysis:

The power of information or disinformation has the ability to shape opinions and discourse, which is thus likely to impact the elections of democracies. A stark example is in India, where its population is struggling to keep up with fake news and propaganda in the run up to its upcoming election.

The measures taken by the government are a step in the right direction as this underpins how serious the government approaches the threat of fakes news. With the prevalence of social and online media being the source of news in this rapid digital age, Singaporeans are increasingly susceptible towards fake news. Furthermore, by eradicating or preventing misinformation, it may arguably lead to more informed discussions of issues which may be beneficial to democracy.

However, critics have pointed out that the proposed laws could potentially impede free speech and may not be effective to solve the complex issue of fake news. This  is reinforced by the viewpoint put forth by other commenters who identified that unlike other media laws, the proposed bill provides any minister with an extraordinary degree of discretion to exercise its powers and to take action against any alleged offender.

To combat fake news, whilst a level of regulation is required, arguably more should be done through education and awareness for the public to discern for themselves what is true or false. Additionally, it may be more beneficial for individuals to play a greater role in holding each other accountable for the information it posts online as advocated in this article here.

Questions for further personal evaluation:

  1.   How can you protect yourself against being a victim of fake news?
  2. What role should social media platforms play in the fight against online falsehoods?

Useful vocabulary:

  1. proliferation’: to increase a lot and suddenly in number
  2. susceptible’: easily influenced or harmed by something
  3. discern’: to see, recognize, or understand something that is not clear

 

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