Singapore’s controversial “fake news” legislation is due to come into effect after June as the city-state tries to control online falsities.
The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Law would not suppress information but allow citizens to access facts so they could engage in public discourse, said information minister S Iswaran.
Individuals prosecuted under the legislation could face fines of up to S$50,000 (US$36,000) and up to five years in jail. If “fake news” is posted by “an inauthentic online account or controlled by a bot” the fine could rise to S$100,000 and the jail term to 10 years.
If companies are found guilty of spreading “fake news” they could face fines of up to S$1 million.
Singapore had sought input from technology and media firms while the bill was being drawn up, he said.
“This bill and what we are intending here does not in any way impinge on criticism, opinion, satire or parody,” the minister told the media.
Singapore will hold online platforms accountable for the spread of fake news, putting pressure on giants like Facebook to police their content.
Online groups have expressed worries over the legislation, saying it granted broad powers to the government to compel firms to remove content it regarded as false and about a lack of public consultation during the drafting process.
Iswaran said: “It’s also about Singapore’s role as a business hub, Singapore’s involvement in various kinds of R and D [research and development] and artificial intelligence etc.
“On this matter, I think we have an alignment in the sense that all of us are seeking to ensure that online discourse is informed by the facts. I think we are approaching it in different ways and I think there’s a way forward where we can work together.”
But 83 academics from across the globe have dismissed Ministry of Education assurances that the legislation will not affect their work.
The group announced: “We note its assurances that the proposed law will not affect academic work. But we cannot accept this as a categorical guarantee until it is reflected in the language of the bill.”
It acknowledged that the “disinformation dilemma that has prompted the Singapore government to act is a real one [causing the] corruption of democratic processes and the spread of hate propaganda against defenceless communities”.
But it said academia was vital in the battle against the “global assault on reason” and “no country’s response should undermine the very capacities it requires to deal with this crisis”.
The statement said: “Our concern about the proposed legislation cannot be divorced from larger issues around academic freedom in the republic.”
Tech-savvy Singapore is looking for a solution to fake online news. Picture credit: Wikimedia