Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent comments indicating that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) may be used against those who “manipulate opinions and influence elections” has drawn flak on social media.
POFMA, which was tabled in Parliament earlier this month, aims to provide the government with powers to act against online falsehoods to protect public interest and intends to give ministers the authority to determine what is an online falsehood and how to act against it.
Parliament will gather for a second reading of the draft bill on 6 May. The timing of the introduction of the bill and the speed with which Parliament is deliberating on passing it has caused some critics to speculate that the bill would become law in time for the next General Election, which could be held as early as this year.
Yesterday (25 Apr), PM Lee seemed to confirm that the bill may be used against those who try to “manipulate opinions and influence elections”. Speaking at the 29th Inter-Pacific Bar Association conference at Raffles Convention Centre, PM Lee called legislation an “essential part” of the answer of how to tackle hate speech and fake news.
Asserting that it has become “absurdly easy” for individuals to “conduct covert and subversive campaigns to manipulate opinions and influence elections,” the head of government said: “While public education is the first line of defence, legislation is an essential part of the answer, as even Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged.”
PM Lee’s remarks, however, have not gone over too well with some Singaporeans. Netizens responding to his views highlighted Clause 61 of the draft bill, which states that “The Minister may, by order in the Gazette, exempt any person or class of persons from any provision of this Act.”
Pointing out that this could potentially mean that the Minister could arbitrarily decide who is liable for “fake news” and who is not, netizens asserted that such a law would make the opposition playing field even more uneven: