Law Ministry asserts Facebook’s reaction to disputed STR article shows why fake news legislation is needed

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Law Minister K Shanmugam (YT screencapture0

The Ministry of Law has asserted that Facebook’s response to a disputed article “shows why we need legislation to protect us from deliberate online falsehoods.”

The Ministry, headed by top ruling party politician K Shanmugam, alleged that the social media giant “declined” to take down a contentious post by the States Times Review, linking Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Singapore Government to the 1MDB scandal.

Published on 5 November 2018, the article entitled “Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB’s key investigation target” made statements that were false and malicious, and impugned the integrity of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) as a financial regulator.

The article further alleged that Malaysia had signed several unfair agreements with Singapore, in exchange for Singapore banks’ assistance in laundering 1MDB’s funds.

Earlier, Shanmugam called the defamatory article “baseless” as he said that the authorities will take action against all parties involved.

MAS lodged a police report over the article while the Infocommunications Media Development Authority (IMDA) geo-blocked the website when the website’s editor refused to take down the article. The editor later said that he has decided to cease all website operations.

The Law Ministry has used the incident as an example to illustrate why “FB cannot be relied upon to filter falsehoods or protect Singapore from a false information campaign.” In a press statement yesterday night, the Ministry said:

“Facebook has declined to take down a post that is clearly false, defamatory and attacks Singapore, using falsehoods. This shows why we need legislation to protect us from deliberate online falsehoods.
“Many Malaysian publications, including China Press, that had initially reported STR’s malicious post, took it down after our High Commission in Malaysia issued a clarification to say the post was false and libellous.
“Sarawak Report and its editor Ms Clare Rewcastle Brown have issued two statements to say STR’s claim that the Report had declared Singapore to be the next target of the 1MDB investigation was false.
“But Facebook does not feel all this is sufficient grounds for it to remove the post. FB cannot be relied upon to filter falsehoods or protect Singapore from a false information campaign.”

Law Minister Shanmugam is a prominent member of the Government-convened Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods.

Shanmugam notably grilled Facebook’s vice-president of public policy for Asia-Pacific, Simon Milner, when he appeared in front of the Committee to give oral evidence in front of the Committee, earlier this year.

While the Select Committee suggested that the Government should have powers to compel social-media networks like Google and Facebook to take down disputed content, such ideas were not covered explicitly in the report produced by the Committee.