Workers’ Party (WP) Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leon Perera is set to question Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran on the contentious Media Literacy Council (MLC) booklet that received backlash for branding satire as fake news. The booklet had been distributed to primary and secondary school students.
Mr Perera is set to ask Mr Iswaran the following question when Parliament convenes on Monday (7 Oct):
“To ask the Minister for Communications and Information (a) how many copies of the “Get Smart with Sherlock” booklet on fake news have been printed; (b) how many copies have been distributed to students; and (c) whether the Ministry will review the current vetting processes for such material.”
Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong also has questions pertaining to the booklet, for Mr Iswaran. She is set to ask the Minister “what are the Media Literary Council’s guidelines regarding fake news, satire, parody and opinion; how does the Council ensure that the media literacy curriculum and materials are age-appropriate for schools;
“and what is the Ministry’s overall media literacy plan for Singapore including that on matters under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act.”
Branding satire as a type of fake news, the MLC-produced booklet claimed: “Satire uses humour or exaggeration to make fun of hot-topic issues, which may fool people unfamiliar with the website or event mentioned.”
Sharing several screenshots of excerpts from the MLC booklet, Reddit user u/ongcs wrote: “My boy told me that, the teacher just handed them the book, without any further instruction. Neither did teacher read the book together with them, or explain to them. I don’t blame the teacher. Probably the instructions from the relevant organization is just “distribute to all the students”.”
The screenshots u/ongcs shared show that the booklet lists “confirmation bias, continued influence effect, illusory truth effect, backfire effect and echo chamber” as some of the reasons why people may fall for fake news. u/ongcs pointed out the difficulty of explaining such advanced terms to his 7-year-old son.
This is not the first time the MLC has branded satire as fake news. It first did so earlier this month through a post on its social media pages on six “types of fake news”. These were false context, imposter content, manipulated content, misleading content, clickbait, and satire.
The MLC swiftly drew intense backlash with netizens accusing the authority of spreading misleading information and asking it to retract the posts and issue an apology.
The organisation later apologised and promised to review its material. The MLC also admitted that Singapore’s anti-fake news law – the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) – does not extend to opinions, criticisms, satire or parody.
Days after the MLC apologised, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam confirmed that “the suggestion that satire is covered by POFMA is erroneous.” He said:
“I can understand what the MLC was trying to say. But either they made a mistake, or it didn’t get said accurately…That is unfortunately not an accurate representation of POFMA.”
Screenshots of the MLC-produced booklet u/ongcs shared appear to show that the authority’s social media posts branding satire as a type of fake news was not a “mistake” as it was made out to be since the body made the same claim in materials that were circulated to impressionable students.
The MLC, a Government-linked body, later said that it has stopped the distribution of the booklet to schools.