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1 Apr 2019 12:00

New Singapore Law Will Allow Government to Tackle “Fake News” By Removing Content

The controversial new law will likely add pressure to social media companies based in the city-state

David Hughes
By David HughesStaff Writer

A new law, entitled The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, is to be implemented in Singapore in an attempt to squash “fake news”. This will permit authorities to remove any articles deemed to go against government regulations.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has spoken of the need to combat misinformation circulating throughout the country. Media outlets will have to correct “fake” news and, in Lee’s words: “show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods so that readers or viewers can see all sides and make up their own minds about the matter.”

“In extreme and urgent cases, the legislation will also require online news sources to take down fake news before irreparable damage is done.”

The media situation in Singapore is already quite stringent and draconian, with authoritarian leanings in the government. This new law looks set to tighten that grip even further and consolidate control.

Facebook, Google, and Twitter all have headquarters in the city-state, and will likely face pressure to abide by this new ruling.

Last year, Facebook declined a request to remove information by the Singapore government, which has since stated the need to regulate the social media site. The Ministry of Law said in a statement: “FB [Facebook] cannot be relied upon to filter falsehoods or protect Singapore from a false information campaign.”

Just how this new Singapore law defines “fake news” isn’t particularly clear, other than “disinformation which could threaten religious and racial harmony.”

This ambiguity has been highlighted by critics of the law, concerned that “fake news” could be used as a convenient excuse to crackdown on dissent and freedom of information. Reporters Without Borders has designated Lee Hsien Loong a “predator” against press freedom, saying the Singapore government is “transform[ing] itself into a “Ministry of Truth”.

Singapore is one of a number of countries to take actionable steps against “Fake News”. In April last year, Malaysia passed a controversial Anti-Fake News bill that has since been repealed. In November we reported on French legal action that could see judges remove content deemed “fake” three months prior to elections. Australia is also looking increasingly likely to implement “tough” new laws.