The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA) was passed in Parliament on 8 May 2019.
Addressing the various points brought up by members of the House, Minister for Home Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam emphasised that the law is not a political tool, but it is about shaping the kind of society that Singapore should be.
“There is no profit of any sort including political profit in trying to allow these lies to proliferate and damage our infrastructure of fact. It will damage our institutions and frankly no mainstream political party will benefit from it. It will damage any party that wants to considers itself mainstream and credible.”
During the debate, Mr Shanmugam also responded to the Worker’s Party’s opposition to the proposed fake news law, saying that it is impossible to guarantee that the courts are able to decide quickly what constitutes as falsehoods.
WP had earlier opposed the law because they felt that the courts, and not the ministers, should be the deciding body on what constitutes false matters.
In addition, Member of Parliament, Mr Cedric Foo had also pointed out that while protection orders for individuals and companies can be granted swiftly under the enhanced Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), these anti-harassment laws are for private matters. “(POFMA) is about a public interest, riots, the possible spread of wildfire, racial disharmony. These are huge public interest matters that have to be dealt with much faster than POHA cases because those are of an individual’s interest,” he added.
Separately, Minister for Education Ong Ye Kung reassured the House and academics that the proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA) will not apply to academic research.
Responding to a letter he received last month which raised concerns that the Bill could lead to self-censorship, Mr Ong said the Government will stay true to science and empirical evidence.
Mr Ong explained that the only way POFMA would be invoked is if the research uses false observations or data to begin with, which prevents public discourse from taking place properly. “In which case, such work cannot pass the professional standards of any decent university or research institute,” he added.
If any academic uses online platforms to spread falsehoods that harm society, Mr Ong said they will not be spared under the law.
Mr Ong reiterated there is a need to ensure public discourse to be free of malicious falsehoods.
“POFMA enhances, and not diminishes, democratic public discourse,” he said.
Image: Screengrab from CNA