Regulating Singapore’s online space and dealing with the swift dissemination of half truths and totally counterfeit information is top priority legislation for the Singaporean government come 2019. More than enforcing legislative measures to combat the proliferation of fake news, the government is also exerting effort to effectively empower Singaporeans in accurately identifying online misinformation. Together with this initiative is the drafting of a national framework for media literacy which will be launched next year.
Mr. Edwin Tong, a member of the Select Committee convened to discuss the issue, said that creating and cultivating a generation of critical thinkers will demand intensive endeavors and will require the focused effort of stakeholders in the information ecosystem which includes media organizations and academic institutions. He also acknowledged that while deceptions and fabricated stories cannot always be easily spotted because in many instances these are so mixed up with genuine truths, education is imperative and should be the key to this issue’s resolution.
“There are a number of objectives to take into consideration when defining this issue in law,” Mr. Tong answered media when inquired how Singapore would define the matter in law. He stressed the fact that the goals of any legislation include disrupting the use of tools that amplify falsehoods such as invalid accounts run by bots or trolls and safeguarding the democratic process and public discourse. “How we precisely scope it out and define it will have to rest on how we see those pieces coming together,” Mr. Tong said. He added that “there is a lot of work to be done,” and underscored the challenges in guaranteeing that legislation is attuned to the goals of the endeavor.
“For example, there are obviously different types of information out there, and there are also different types of deterrent effects we want to achieve. For a falsehood that has gone out, there’s not much that you can do by way of criminalizing conduct that can affect the falsehood itself … You can then use the fact that you have sanctions and legislation as deterrence for future purveyors of falsehood,” Mr. Tong said further.
With reference to Facebook and Twitter, Mr. Tong said, “Because they play such a dominant role in this entire issue, and carry with them so much of the control being the people who run the platforms … we want to see what we can do to ensure that we can level off that position.”
When pressed on the type of powers legislation would give the government to induce tech companies to act, and asked whether or not social media giants have an avenue to appeal, Mr. Tong did not elaborate but gave the assurance that whatever provisions drafted, they “will always be subject to some degree of oversight.”
To further elucidate on the government’s effort to nurture a generation of critical thinkers and create a national framework for media literacy, Mr. Tong said, “I think being sensitized to (falsehoods), knowing what it might be, having a broader ability to have sources like fact-checkers to go to, have information from relevant agencies, and just being able to discern … would help…..It’s not going to happen overnight, but it doesn’t mean we don’t start, and we have started now.” Mr. Tong concluded.