Singapore—K Shanmugam, the country’s Home Affairs and Law Minister, said that while fake news is found in many places, there is “far less” of it in Singapore, which is important during this time when misinformation about Covid-19 abounds.
Mr Shanmugam told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Wednesday, (Apr 9), that governments can fight against the proliferation of falsehoods at this time through consistent communication and the quick correction of misinformation.
He said, “Regular communication, I think, is one way of fighting this fake news.
Second, when there is fake news that you can identify, point it out and make sure that people get to know that this is fake news. Do your best.”
And while Singapore has also had to fight falsehoods lately, the Minister says that it may not be as bad as in other countries.
“We are not the only place where fake information is circulating, but I would say there is far less here. You know the Singapore approach: We put out the clarification, we require the platform to carry what the true facts are and we saw a substantial reduction in the amount of fake news circulating.”
He noted that fake news is now part of our lives today, “You just have to accept it,” he added.
The Singaporean Government uses its law against online falsehoods, Pofma (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act), to fight misinformation. Under this law, purveyors of false information must publish “correction notices” beside items that it considers to be false. Furthermore, the Government can also issue “take down” orders compelling sites to remove content.
The Singaporean Government ensures that it communicates concerning the coronavirus outbreak through the website of the Ministry of Health, which is updated daily, as well as via messages on WhatsApp.
Mr Shanmugam told CNBC that at the time when Pofma was being discussed, one of the scenarios considered was a public health crisis. And while fake news can, and has been, spread to create confusion among people, the answer to this is the proliferation of more information, and not censorship.
In February, Facebook said that it was deeply concerned about the order from the Government to block access to the States Times Review (STR) page on its site.
A spokesman for the social media company said on February 18, “We believe orders like this are disproportionate and contradict the government’s claim that POFMA would not be used as a censorship tool. We’ve repeatedly highlighted this law’s potential for overreach and we’re deeply concerned about the precedent this sets for the stifling of freedom of expression in Singapore.”
But according to Singapore’s Minister for Communications and Information, S Iswaran, swift action is needful at this time due to the proliferation of online falsehoods during the Covid-19 outbreak. Mr Iswaran said on February 18, “Because if we don’t, then these falsehoods can cause anxiety, fear, and even panic.”
He added, “On the psychological side, it is essential that… we put out timely information, accurate information, so that our citizens are well informed and understand what is happening.” —/TISG