SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s parliament on Monday began considering a law on “fake news” that an internet watchdog has called the world’s most far-reaching, stoking fears the government could use additional powers to choke freedom of speech and chill dissent.
Governments and companies worldwide are increasingly worried about the spread of false information online and its impact on everything from share prices to elections and social unrest.
Human rights activists fear laws to curb so-called “fake news” could be abused to silence opposition.
Here are details of such laws around the world:
Singapore’s new law would require social media sites like Facebook to carry warnings on posts the government deems false and remove comments against the “public interest”.
Singapore, which ranks 151 among 180 countries rated by the World Press Freedom Index, defines “public interests” as threats to its security, foreign relations, electoral integrity and public perception of the government and state institutions.
Violations could attract fines of up to S$ 1 million ($737,500) and 10 years in prison.
Last month, President Vladimir Putin signed into law tough new fines for Russians who spread what the authorities regard as fake news or who show “blatant disrespect” for the state online.
Critics have warned the law could aid state censorship, but lawmakers say it is needed to combat false news and abusive online comment.
Authorities may block websites that do not meet requests to remove inaccurate information. Individuals can be fined up to 400,000 rouble ($6,109.44) for circulating false information online that leads to a “mass violation of public order”.
France passed two anti-fake news laws last year, to rein in false information during election campaigns following allegations of Russian meddling in the 2017 presidential vote.
President Emmanuel Macron vowed to overhaul media laws to fight “fake news” on social media, despite criticism that the move was a risk to civil liberties.
Germany passed a law last year for social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, to quickly remove hate speech.
Called NetzDG for short, the law is the most ambitious effort by a Western democracy to control what appears on social media. It will enforce online Germany’s tough curbs on hate speech, including pro-Nazi ideology, by giving sites a 24-hour deadline to remove banned content or face fines of up to 50 million euros.
Since it was adopted, however, German officials have said too much online content was being blocked, and are weighing changes.
Malaysia’s ousted former government was among the first to adopt a law against fake news, which critics say was used to curb free speech ahead of last year’s general elections, which it lost.The measure was seen as a tool to fend off criticism over graft and mismanagement of funds by then prime minister Najib Razak, who now faces charges linked to a multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad.
The new government’s bid to deliver on an election promise to repeal the law was blocked by the opposition-led Senate, however.
The European Union and authorities worldwide will have to regulate big technology and social media companies to protect citizens, European Commission deputy head Frans Timmermans said last month.
EU heads of state will urge governments to share information on threats via a new warning system, launched by the bloc’s executive. They will also call for online platforms to do more to remove misleading or illegal content.
Union-level efforts have been limited by different election rules in each member nation and qualms over how vigorously regulators can tackle misleading content online.
($1=1.3559 Singapore dollars)
(Reporting by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Clarence Fernandez; and Joe Brock)