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

The PM said that since technology and social media are growing at a fast pace, it has gotten "absurdly easy" for certain individuals to "conduct covert and subversive campaigns to manipulate opinions and influence elections"

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Singapore—Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong emphasised the importance of legislation in providing answers to the problem of hate speech and the spreading of fake news in a speech on April 25.

He said that since technology and social media are growing at a fast pace, it has gotten “absurdly easy” for certain individuals to “conduct covert and subversive campaigns to manipulate opinions and influence elections.” His full speech can be found here.

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.

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Earlier in April, the Government tabled POFMB (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill) in Parliament. In May, the second reading on the bill will most likely occur.

The Prime Minister said that POFMB 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.

PM Lee talked about how nations must weigh for themselves and strike the right balance between national security and personal freedoms.

“First, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, many countries have had to find an effective response to extremist terrorism and radical incitement to violence. Countries have had to contemplate difficult trade-offs between personal liberties and collective security. They have had to consider when to impose restrictions on an individual or group based on their likely intent to do harm, rather than acting only after they have committed a crime, by which time it may well be too late.

As for dealing with incitement to violence, the traditional liberal approach – that in the marketplace of ideas, free of all restrictions, reasonable and rational voices will automatically prevail. This is no longer a self-evident truth. Different countries have settled for different solutions to these dilemmas, depending on their societal values and political traditions, but none have been able to avoid them.”

He also emphasised how countries need to work together on issues concerning e-commerce and taxation. “Countries need to work together to make sure entities existing and operating in cyberspace pay their fair share of taxes in the real world, but they also tussle with one another on the zero-sum question of who is to collect and keep the taxes on these online activities,” he added.

He also mentioned that meetings such as the Inter-Pacific Bar Association conference are helpful in aiding individuals in understanding these issues.

PM Lee said, “Ultimately, better informed, more current legal practitioners can only be helpful to the legal systems and the cause of justice in our respective countries.”

The Singaporean Prime Minister is now in Beijing to take part in the second Belt and Road Forum. He will be out of the country for 5 days.

PM Lee will be speaking at a high-level meeting at Beijing’s National Convention Centre, as well as a leaders’ roundtable at Yanqi Lake in the suburb of Huairou that will be chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to The Straits Times (ST) report and a statement from PM Lee’s office on April 25. In attendance as well will be Russian President Vladimir Putin, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, along with other world leaders./TISG

Read related: POFMA: Real reason fake news has become so attractive

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