Singapore submitted wide-ranging fake news legislation in parliament


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.

‘Serious problem’

The new Singaporean bill follows a pattern of governments around the world, but particularly in Asia, seizing on legitimate concerns about fake news and other issues to pass new laws critics say are designed to clamp down on online expression. In January, Fiji enacted a new law on online safety critics say is a “Trojan horse” for censorship of the internet, while since 2017 in the Philippines, Cambodia and Malaysia concerns about “fake news” have been use to justify new crackdowns on media. Malaysia has since repealed its fake news law, but the other countries continue to defend them as necessary for protecting citizens online. China too, the world’s most sophisticated censor of the internet, has used concerns about online misinformation to defend its own sweeping controls on free speech. An anniversary event for Channel NewsAsia, Singapore PM Lee said fake news was a “serious problem for many countries.”He defended the new law as giving the government the “power to hold online news sources and platforms accountable if they proliferate deliberate online falsehoods.”

“This includes requiring them to show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods, so that readers or viewers can see all sides, and make up their own minds about the matter. In extreme and urgent cases, the legislation will also require online news sources to take down fake news before irreparable damage is done,”

“If we do not protect ourselves, hostile parties will find it a simple matter to turn different groups against one another and cause disorder in our society.”Lee did not mention the potential prison sentences or large fines for spreading “fake news,” or the concerns international media might have about operating in Singapore under the new law. prime minister’s office and the Singapore Ministry of Law did not respond to requests for comment on this article. K. Shanmugam, said in a press briefing that the government would protect free speech and said takedown orders would be rare, according to the Wall Street Journal. “I think the reality of falsehoods and hate speech and harmful content on the internet is a reality that is here to stay,” he said. “We have to deal with it as best as we can.”