Singapore’s new law aimed at curtailing fake news is met with both commendation and tremendous criticism. The passage of the law comes at a time when Singapore, a financial and transport hub, has been making efforts to position itself as regional center for digital innovation.
Tech giant Google said the law could impede those efforts.
“We remain concerned that this law will hurt innovation and the growth of the digital information ecosystem,” a company spokesperson said in response to a query from media.
In similar vein, Simon Milner, Facebook’s Asia-Pacific vice-president of public policy, said, “We remain concerned with aspects of the new law which grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and to push a government notification to users.”
Activists are concerned that the law could give the government power to decide if material posted online is true or false.
“Singapore’s leaders have crafted a law that will have a chilling affect on Internet freedom throughout South-east Asia,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“(The law will) likely start a new set of information wars as they try to impose their narrow version of “truth” on the wider world.”
What worries big tech most “is fragmentation,” said Dexter Thillien, a technology analyst at Fitch Solutions, adding that building technical fixes to comply with individual laws would not be prohibitively expensive if only Singapore enacted such laws.
“They’re global businesses and they want to have more or less the same type of services everywhere,” Thillien said. “If you have a rule in Australia, a rule in New Zealand, a rule in Canada, a rule in Europe, a rule in the US, a rule in Singapore, and they’re slightly different, obviously that increases the cost of compliance.”
What people are saying about the new law
Phil Robertson (Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch): “The new law was a “disaster for online expression by ordinary Singaporeans, and a hammer blow against the independence of many online news portals.”
Nicholas Bequelin (Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia): “This bill would give the Singapore authorities unchecked powers to clamp down on online views of which it disapproves … Singaporeans have every reason to fear that this law is designed to gag online expression once and for all. It criminalises free speech and allows the government almost unfettered power to censor dissent. It doesn’t even provide any real definition of what is true or false or, even more worrying, “misleading.””
Sudhir Vadaketh (Singapore writer): “The most important near term impact will be that people will stop sharing and commenting as much online,” and added that, “If people become afraid to talk about things!… then they won’t just become hesitant in talking about race or religion. They will be afraid to criticise any government policy … They will be worried about commenting on what is going on in Singapore.”
Cherian George (Singaporean academic/professor of journalism at Hong Kong Baptist University): “Just like other media laws in Singapore, the act itself does not reveal all of the government’s teeth, because there are powers that will be left to subsidiary legislation …“What we need to watch out for is the likelihood that there will be subsidiary regulation that won’t go through parliament that will impose additional obligations on mass media, including foreign publications that are influential in Singapore.”
Alex Ho (university student), who reckons that if all news were reliable, people wouldn’t need to use their brains to assess information: “Singapore has a reputation of a nanny state, but this is carrying it too far. Falsehood will always exist. It’s superior to teach people how to think rather than what to think.” /TISG
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