Singapore introduces bill to fight false claims

Singapore is the latest country to take legislative measures against false claims by news outlets. Under deliberation for almost two years, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill would allow the Singaporean government to remove supposedly fallacious information and have media sites run corrective notices alongside existing content.

Read for the first time on April 1, the proposed legislation would also allow the government to impose severe penalties on news sites and gives government ministers the right to order any content that holds false or incorrect information to be removed or taken down. Penalties include fines of over $36,000 or up to five years in prison, and up to $100,000 or 10 years in prison for inauthentic online accounts or bots. The largest fines lie with big social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, which could be fined up to $1,000,000 if found guilty.

Singapore officials seem to think this new legislation is necessary in protecting citizens and corporations online. This country is now one of many that will be pushing for laws against fake news, including Fiji and, until recently, Malaysia. The Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated at an event for Channel NewsAsia that this new bill gives government the ability to hold online news sources accountable if they deliberately spread false statements and requires them to show corrections or warnings announcing falsehoods so people see all sides. This legislation does allow for appeals to the minister who ordered the removal or correction, or to the High Court if that first option fails. However, the law says that the order directed by the minister must first be carried out.

A major critique of this bill is that there is no set guideline for how or when a minister determines whether a statement needs to be corrected or removed. Backlash has been sweeping through Singapore at the prospect of no longer being able to post or publish with complete freedom by human rights groups, the Singaporean civil society, and major corporations. Human Rights Watch’s Asia division deputy director, Phil Robertson, told CNN he expected this new law to be used for political purposes. He believes that because of Singapore’s history of restricting speech against the government, officials should not solely determine what is true or false.

Representatives for large corporations in Asia have voiced their concerns, including Facebook’s vice president of public policy in Asia, Simon Milner. He told CNN that although giving people a place to freely and safely express themselves was important, they also have an obligation to remove any content the government finds to be false.

Reporters Without Borders, a political advocacy group for the freedom of the press, has expressed major concerns that human freedoms would be violated with the passage of the law in Singapore. The organization states that the hidden agenda and discretionary power of the government, biased legislative process, loose wording, disproportionate penalties, and self-regulation are the major weakness with the proposed bill.

Daniel Bastard, the head of the Asia-Pacific section of Reporters Without Borders, vilified the bill. “It is not up to the government to arbitrarily determine what is and is not true,” said Bastard. “We condemn this bill in the strongest possible terms because, in both form and substance, it poses unacceptable obstacles to the free flow of journalistically verified information.”

As the bill continues through the legislative process, both citizens and businesses are waiting to see if the bill will become federal law.