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PM Lee: Country should be ‘mentally prepared’ for possible fake news spreading in next GE

This, he maintained, is the reason why Singapore needs to be ready for this through having defensive measures already installed, including the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA)

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Singapore—In a recent media interview, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that fake news played a hand in recent elections in other countries, which is why he said that Singapore must be mentally prepared for the possibility of fake news in the upcoming general election (GE).

PM Lee was interviewed by Mediacorp Channel 8 Singapore’s Chinese-language broadcast on Sunday night, April 28, a clip of which was featured on Channel NewsAsia (CNA).

Regarding fake news during elections, the Prime Minister said, “It happened in the US. During the recent Taiwan election, the Taiwanese said they had no idea who were (sic) behind some social media posts.

Can the same thing happen in Singapore?

Absolutely.

We must be mentally prepared. Don’t be so naive as to believe everything you see online.”

One more point PM Lee brought up was the potential for external interference in the country’s domestic politics through online falsehoods.

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This, he maintained, is the reason why Singapore needs to be ready for this through having defensive measures already installed, including the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).

POFMA, the proposed bill to fight online falsehoods and hate speech that was tabled in Parliament earlier this month, is expected to be passed in May.

These preventive measures, the Prime Minister said, should be balanced with freedom of speech.

He continued, “We’re quite open. It’s entirely possible for some people to create fake news to shape our public opinion. We must be prepared. We must have defensive measures in place. That’s why we’ve introduced the anti-fake news bill. It’s not a foolproof solution, but it can reduce the impact of fake news.

Free speech is permissible within limits, but when it goes beyond the limits, it may be deemed libelous, defamatory, or threatening.

So we need to agree on appropriate boundaries to protect free speech so that people can exchange information, views, and opinions meaningfully.”

PM Lee also talked about the widespread reach and impact social media has in influencing people. He himself has 1.2 million Facebook followers.

Concerning social media, he said, “You should post things that interest you or are meaningful. I don’t think it should be about portraying an image. In the long run, people will see through your facade. But if you only post serious stuff, people might find it too heavy.

So I hope to use a different method to relay messages through social media. We need to find a casual way of touching on serious topics.

For instance, it’s difficult to explain a free trade agreement. So perhaps we can talk about being able to buy apples, red wine or milk from more regions. People will have a tangible picture of the topic and find it easier to understand. They may then be more likely to read about it, or even like it.

But our main objective is to communicate with netizens.”

Legislation necessary to curbing online falsehoods

Last week, in a speech at the 29th Inter-Pacific Bar Association meeting and conference at Raffles Convention Centre, Prime Minister Lee said, “While public education is the first line of defence, legislation is an essential part of the answer, as even Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged.”

Mr Lee again mentioned the argument that other countries are using legislation to address the issue of the spread of fake news.

The Prime Minister said that the proposed bill will not only give the Government power to issue correction orders, but it will also make sure that online platforms are held responsible.

The Government, PM Lee said, “in serious cases,” can mete out “take-down orders when online platforms publish false statements of facts.”

Critics of the proposed legislation against online falsehoods have voiced concerns over the curbing of free speech, as well as the vague language the bill contains./TISG

Read related: PM Lee: Legislation an ‘essential part’ in curbing the spread of fake news and hate speech

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