Singapore is close to passing a law, dubbed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, which is squarely aimed at combating false news online. This law will combat inaccurate online content through three primary mechanisms:
1) Will force websites to run government “correction notices” alongside content it deems false;
2) Let the government issue “take down” orders that require the removal of content posted by social media companies, news organizations or individuals;
3) Make it easier and faster for companies and individuals to lodge complaints with the courts that can result in content being struck from websites.
“This legislation deals with false statements of fact,” Singapore Minister for Law K. Shanmugam told reporters on Monday morning. “It doesn’t deal with opinions. It doesn’t deal with viewpoints. You can have whatever viewpoints however reasonable or unreasonable.”… “Bad actors actually put in falsehoods into the marketplace to confuse others to change the terms of the debate. And in fact it undermines free speech. It undermines democracy.”
While this is a reasonable and proactive step by Singapore’s government to combat the fake news cycle, it certainly puts the responsibility of deciphering real news and fake news squarely on the shoulders of government. At a time when so much of the fake news and real news online is reporting on government activity or government personnel, giving that same government the power to filter the news, in the name of democracy, is ironically problematic.
On Saturday, Mark Zuckerberg said he wants governments to play a bigger role in regulating the internet, but he should be careful for what he wishes for. This new law could have dramatic affects on social media in Singapore, as the government will likely be removing a great deal of “fake” content ripe for Facebook, Twitter, and others. Additionally, companies and websites which are found to have knowingly created and shared fake news six times, will have their “ability to profit” removed. If Singapore targeted Facebook and others with this dramatic measure, the social media giants are sure to fight back.
Already, there may be a compromise stirring, as the latest recommend roll-out of this law would remove the removal functions and instead bolster the “fake news alert” function; “Our own preference is that, actually, leave the material there. Just have something which says, ‘This is inaccurate. For the truth, go to such-and-such a place.’ And that way, in a sense, people can read whatever they want and make up their own mind,” Shanmugam said. If that function operated as seamlessly as he makes it sound like it could, it certainly strikes me as a helpful and practical introduction to our online environment.