Internet technology giants Google and Facebook have reiterated their concerns over the Singapore Government’s decision to legislate fake news, even as Parliament passed the controversial Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) bill, last night.

After a fierce debate that took place over two days, Parliament passed the bill around 10.20pm yesterday. The vote to pass the bill was not unanimous.

In the first division, all nine Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament (MPs) rejected the bill while Nominated MP (NMP) Lim Sun Sun abstained from voting. 74 MPs supported the bill.

In the final division, 72 MPs supported the bill while all nine WP MPs rejected the bill. NMPs Anthea Ong, Walter Theseira and Irene Quay, whose proposed amendments to the bill were rejected, abstained from voting.

In a statement to Reuters published today, Google said that POFMA could hurt innovation in Singapore. Pointing out that Singapore is keen to expand its tech space and position itself as a digital innovation hub, Google said that the legislation could impede these efforts.

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The tech conglomerate said: “We remain concerned that this law will hurt innovation and the growth of the digital information ecosystem. How the law is implemented matters, and we are committed to working with policymakers on this process.”

Facebook expressed similar concerns. The social media giant’s Asia-Pacific vice-president of public policy, Simon Milner, said: “We remain concerned with aspects of the new law which grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and to push a government notification to users.”

Milner added that Facebook hopes the Government’s reassuring statements on POFMA would lead to a “proportionate and measured approach in practice.”

Earlier, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) – an industry association made up of leading internet and technology companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Apple, eBay, Expedia and Paypal – expressed “strong reservations on specific provisions – reservations that are shared by veteran journalists, legal experts, academics and human rights representatives.”

In an editorial published in the national broadsheet, AIC’s managing director Jeff Paine wrote that it is believed that the bill “will impact freedom of expression and curtail the rights of individuals, Singaporean or otherwise, to freely express opinions and participate in informed discussions, even debates, that are necessary to ensure executive transparency and accountability,” Mr Paine said that the vague wording of parts of the bill “creates room for a highly subjective application of the law.”

Criticising the “extraordinary amount of power [that is put] in the hands of individual ministers” Mr Paine also took issue with the “limited scope of judicial oversight and the lack of robust safeguards in the appeal process.”

In response, ruling party politician Edwin Tong rubbished Mr Paine’s claims and said that the Government is “confident that there is broad and deep support among an overwhelming majority of Singaporeans for laws to tackle online falsehoods.”

Asserting that “the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans want strong laws to deal with online falsehoods” and that only a small group is “crying wolf” over the bill, he said: “Crying wolf repeatedly gets no attention.” –/TISG

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