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Asia Internet Coalition says “overreaching” new bill on fake news poses risks to freedom of speech

The industry association finds bill the most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date.

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The Asia Internet Coalition has expressed concerns over the Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill that was tabled in Parliament on Mon (1 Apr). The bill, which aims to provide the Government with powers to act against online falsehoods to protect public interest, intends to give ministers the authority to determine what is an online falsehood.

The bill proposes that domain ministers can decide whether to take action under two conditions: when a false statement of a fact has been communicated in Singapore through the Internet, and when it is in the public interest to intervene.

The Ministry for Law, which tabled the bill, said that the bill is largely about correction and will require facts to be published alongside falsehoods. In serious cases, domain ministers can also work with the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) to take down the falsehoods or disable inauthentic accounts.

If an online website published three different falsehoods against public interest in the preceding six months, the authorities can declare it as one that repeatedly spreads falsehoods and can cut off its ability to profit without shutting it down.

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Under the proposed bill, criminal sanctions will apply against “malicious actors” who deliberately undermine society using falsehoods. These individuals can face hefty fines and jail terms, if they are found guilty in court.

In a statement released shortly after the bill was tabled in parliament, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) said that this sort of “overreaching bill” could pose risk to the freedoms of expression and speech.

AIC is an industry association made up of leading internet and technology companies, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Apple, eBay, Expedia and Paypal. The organisation, which seeks to promote the understanding and resolution of Internet policy issues in the Asia Pacific region, said yesterday:

“The Asia Internet Coalition (“AIC”) supports the Singapore Government’s goals of protecting social cohesion, harmony, and the integrity of institutions and political processes.
“However, we are deeply disappointed by the lack of meaningful opportunities for public consultation during the drafting process of this bill, given the significant implications it could have for diverse stakeholders, including industry, media and civil society, in Singapore, the region and internationally.
“We reiterate our position, which echoes that of many experts around the world, that prescriptive legislation should not be the first solution in addressing what is a highly nuanced and complex issue.
“We are also concerned that the proposed legislation gives the Singapore government full discretion over what is considered true or false. 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.
“AIC will be studying the bill in the coming days. We remain committed to working closely with the Government and other stakeholders to tackle misinformation, and hope that the enforcement of this legislation will not be at the expense of the benefits that public debate and exchange of ideas can bring.”

AIC had earlier made a written representation to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods when it sought feedback on potential legislation on fake news. Read AIC’s written representation here.

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