Singapore submitted wide-ranging fake news legislation in parliament, stoking fears from internet firms and human rights groups that it may give the government too much power and hinder freedom of speech.
The law would require social media sites like Facebook to carry warnings on posts the government deems false and remove comments against “public interest”. The move came two days after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said governments should play a more active role in regulating the online platform. Under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, it will be illegal to spread “false statements of fact” in Singapore, where that information is “prejudicial” to Singapore’s security, public safety, “public tranquility,” or to the “friendly relations of Singapore with other countries,” among numerous other topics. Individuals found guilty of contravening the act can face fines of up to 50,000 SGD (over $36,000) and, or, up to five years in prison. If the “fake news” is posted using “an inauthentic online account or controlled by a bot,” the total potential fine rises to 100,000 SGD (around $73,000), and, or, up to 10 years in prison. Companies such as Facebook, if found guilty of spreading “fake news,” can face fines of up to 1 million SGD (around $735,000). The new bill proposes that the government get online platforms to publish warnings or “corrections” alongside posts carrying false information, without removing them. This would be the “primary response” to counter falsehoods online, the Law Ministry said.”That way, in a sense, people can read whatever they want and make up their minds. That is our preference,” Law Minister K. Shanmugam told. Under the proposals, which must be approved by parliament, criminal sanctions including hefty fines and jail terms will be imposed if the falsehoods are spread by “malicious actors” who “undermine society”, the ministry said, without elaborating. It added that it would cut off an online site’s “ability to profit”, without shutting it down, if the site had published three falsehoods that were “against the public interest” over the previous six months. It did not say how it would block a site’s profit streams. The bill came amid talk of a possible general election this year. Law Minister Shanmugam declined to comment when asked if the new legislation was related to a vote.