New law to tackle fake news faster

07 May 2019 1 min read

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The proposed Protection Against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) aims to tackle online falsehoods in a targeted and speedy manner, especially against viral fake news, said Minister for Law and Home Affairs Mr K. Shanmugam.

Presenting the Bill for debate in Parliament, Mr Shanmugam explained how the new legislation is designed specifically for the Internet – rather than rely on existing legislation – and to deal specifically with online falsehoods which are not fully covered under the Broadcasting Act or Telecommunications Act.

The proposed POFMA is much narrower, and applies only to actual falsehoods, he said.

Mr Shanmugam also rebutted the criticism that the new Bill sidelines the Courts and limits freedom of speech. He pointed out that the Courts have much greater oversight under the proposed law. “Free speech should not be affected by this Bill. We are talking here about falsehoods, bots, trolls, fake accounts and so on,” he emphasised.

He also reminded the House that legislation was recommended by the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods which was set up last year.

Mr Shanmugam stressed that falsehoods are a major factor attacking societies, and Singapore has to act fast to avoid the erosion of trust in public institutions.

He also listed three sources of online falsehoods:
•           foreign countries using information warfare
•           commercial profit
•           deliberate actors who send falsehoods for political ends or to harm other groups

On the role of tech companies, he said that tech companies cannot be relied upon as they provide the platforms for falsehoods and other content to spread. He said that tech companies are welcome to make a profit, but ‘not at the expense of Singaporeans’. Mr Shanmugam added, “Singapore provides a proper rule of law framework for everyone, but they must also be responsible.”