Singapore – A concerned citizen had to do reality checks a few times while going through the draft of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill.
The bill, which was read for the first time in Parliament on Apr 1 (Mon), is basically an anti-fake news initiative of the Government. To be precise, it is “An Act to prevent the electronic communication in Singapore of false statements of fact, to suppress support for and counteract the effects of such communication, to safeguard against the use of online accounts for such communication and for information manipulation, to enable measures to be taken to enhance transparency of online political advertisements, and for related matters.”
Lynn Lee — a concerned citizen who aligns herself with social activist Jolovan Wham in his advocacy of freedom of expression and human rights in Singapore — finished reading the draft and then aired her anxiousness in a public Facebook post.
She summarised the bill as the following: “So, under the proposed legislation, the government gets to decide what constitutes a falsehood. It gets to order takedowns, to demand the posting of “correction notices”, to insist that access to certain sites be blocked. Failure to comply can lead to lengthy jail terms and hefty fines.”
What would be considered as false, under the draft?
According to the bill, “A statement is false if it is false or misleading, whether wholly or in part, and whether on its own or in the context in which it appears.”
The purpose of the Bill
“Folks, the PAP just made itself the arbiter of truth. If this doesn’t frighten you, consider the fact that this is the party that conjured up the falsehood that was the “Marxist Conspiracy”. Innocent people were imprisoned without trial, Singapore’s mainstream media roped in to help propagate lies,” wrote Ms Lee.
While Lee’s post also airs government assurance that appeals are allowed and the courts would have the final say on what is false, she *asks, “But how many have the time or the means to go to court? Or are brave enouh to do so?”
She also doubts the government’s stated aim of promoting “healthy and robust public discourse” and protecting “democratic processes and society”, even though every section of the bill has an “Appeals to High Court” subsection explaining the appeals process.
Social activist and blogger Roy Yi Ling Ngerng also provided a detailed analysis of the implications of the Bill. Read his post below:
Meanwhile, internet coalitions and social media moguls such as Facebook and The Asia Internet Coalition are expressing their concerns for the bill. Simon Milner, Vice President of Facebook’s Public Policy division wrote in an email, “Giving people a place to express themselves freely and safely is important to us and we have a responsibility to handle any government request to remove alleged misinformation carefully and thoughtfully.”
Jeff Paine, Managing Director of The Asia Internet Coalition, responded with, “As the most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date, this level of overreach poses significant risks to freedom of expression and speech, and could have severe ramifications both in Singapore and around the world.”
Read more on their responses below: