Singapore fake news legislation – social media to carry warnings

A view of the skyline of Singapore. REUTERS/Edgar Su/Files

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore submitted new fake news legislation in parliament on Monday requiring social media to carry warnings on posts it deems false and remove comments against “public interest”.

The move came two days after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said governments should play a more active role in regulating the online platform.

Singapore, which has been run by the same political party since independence from Britain more than 50 years ago, says it is vulnerable to fake news because of its position as a global financial hub, its mixed ethnic and religious population and widespread internet access.

The new bill proposes that the government get online platforms to publish warnings or “corrections” alongside posts carrying false information, without removing them. 

This would be the “primary response” to counter falsehoods online, the Law Ministry said. 

“That way, in a sense, people can read whatever they want and make up their minds. That is our preference,” Law Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters on Monday. 

“This legislation deals with false statements of facts. It doesn’t deal with opinions, it doesn’t deal with viewpoints. You can have whatever viewpoints however reasonable or unreasonable.” 

Under the proposals, which must be approved by parliament, criminal sanctions will only be imposed if the falsehoods are spread by “malicious actors” who “undermine society”, the ministry said, without elaborating.

It added that it would cut off an online site’s “ability to profit”, without shutting it down, if the site had published three falsehoods that were “against the public interest” over the previous six months.

It did not say how it would block a site’s profit streams. 

The bill came amid talk of a possible general election this year. Law Minister Shanmugam declined to comment when asked if the new legislation was related to a vote.

Facebook, which has its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore and recently unveiled plans to invest $1 billion in its first Asian data centre in the city-state, has previously sparred with the government over fake news.

But the tech giant announced in January that it would also set up a new regional operations centre focused on monitoring election-related content in its Singapore offices.

“We appreciate the government’s close consultation on this important issue and share the same commitment to reduce the spread of deliberate online falsehoods,” Simon Milner, Facebook’s Asia Pacific Vice President of Public Policy, said in an emailed statement. 

“We are, however, concerned with aspects of the law that grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a government notification to users.” 

A spokesman for Google said that it is studying the bill to determine its “next steps”. “We…urge the government to allow for a full and transparent public consultation on the proposed legislation,” the spokesman said. 

(By Fathin Ungku; Additional reporting by Aradhana Aravindan, Editing by Nick Macfie/Mark Heinrich)

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