Singapore tackles fake news with drastic new bill
In April, Singapore announced new legislation that will clamp down on false information being spread on the internet. Under the new law, Singaporean authorities will be able to publish corrections on any claims online that they deem to be false. However, since it’s announcement, it has garnered mounting criticism from many, saying that it is a threat against civil liberties.
The new law differs from similar legislation that focuses on taking down problematic online content, as opposed to prosecuting offenders. Those who are guilty of publishing false claims with ‘malicious intent’ will be fined up to S$1 million (£563,000) and a prison sentence of up to 10 years. Those who are convicted can appeal in the Singapore High Court or seek a judicial review.
The news of this legislation has attracted a lot of criticism, with many believing that the broad phrasing of the law will give the government too much power to control online content which in turn, will have a profound effect on free speech. According to Amnesty International, the new laws will give the Singaporean authorities too much freedom to clamp down on online views that it disapproves of.
The new legislation has also caused alarm amongst tech companies. Simon Milner, who is the vice-president for Public Policy for Asia-Pacific at Facebook was concerned that the law was giving the government too much power and that they were hoping that they took a measured and proportionate approach in practice. A spokesperson for Google, whose Asia-Pacific headquarters are in Singapore, believed that the new laws will have a negative effect on innovation and the growth of the digital information ecosystem.
Many academics and social commentators agreed with this statement, with more than 100 academics writing to Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s minister for education, and argued that the legislation will discourage research online and threatened Singapore’s potential as a global hub for technological innovation. However, Mr. Ong’s response to these claims was simply that the new laws weren’t targeting academics ‘writing their opinions’ and that their concerns had more to do with activists being worried that political discourse was being stifled.
There’s no denying that false information online is a huge concern and authorities worldwide need to rally together to tackle the issue. However, these laws need to be implemented fairly, with the wellbeing of online users being the main priority. Linda Lim, a professor at the University of Michigan and a signatory of the letter, appreciated the confirmation that academic research won’t be affected but pointed out that this is worded very vaguely in the law itself, which can leave room for authorities imposing a bias when checking online content without consequences.
The problem with this kind of issue is that it’s very difficult to regulate without a certain level of bias coming into play and with the subject of politics being so sensitive, the backlash could get very ugly. Will Singapore be successful in stamping out fake news in a fair and balanced way? It’s hard to say, but it’ll be impressive if they do.