The proposed Protection from the Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill that was tabled in Parliament on Monday (1 Apr) has drawn backlash on social media, after it became clear that the bill intends to give Ministers the authority to determine what is an online falsehood.
The bill aims to provide the Government with powers to act against online falsehoods to protect public interest. The bill proposes that domain ministers can decide whether to take action under two conditions: 1) when a false statement of a fact has been communicated in Singapore through the Internet, and 2) when it is in the public interest to intervene.
The Ministry for Law, which tabled the bill, said that the bill is largely about correction and will require the facts to be published alongside the falsehood. In serious cases, domain ministers can also work with the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) to take down the falsehoods or disable inauthentic accounts, under the bill.
If an online website published three different falsehoods against public interest in the preceding six months, the authorities can declare it as one that repeatedly spreads falsehoods and can cut off its ability to profit without shutting it down.
Under the proposed bill, criminal sanctions will apply against “malicious actors” who deliberately undermine society using falsehoods. These individuals can face hefty fines and jail terms, if they are found guilty in court.
The fact that the proposed bill gives ministers the power to trigger actions has irked some Singaporeans, even though the Government has said that this decentralised approach is meant to ensure that online falsehoods are dealt with speedily.
Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran told the press: “The domain minister, advised by his officials, is in the best position to decide whether something is a falsehood and assess its impact on public interest.”
During election periods, the proposed bill gives senior civil servants the power to identify and deal with online falsehoods that go against public interest.
Decrying the plan to give Ministers such powers to determine what is an online falsehood and what is not, several netizens expressed their concerns that such a bill could be misused:
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