Singapore introduces Bill to fight fake news

If the legislation is passed, social media platforms may be ordered by government to disable accounts spreading fake news.

Critics say Singapore's bill against fake news could lead to government abuse If the legislation is passed, social media platforms may be ordered by government to disable accounts spreading fake news.

Singapore introduced legislation [PDF] on Monday that aims to prevent the spread of fake news, and if passed, would place more responsibility onto media companies to ensure fake news does not reside on their platforms.

The legislation, called the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, will require online sites to take down false information, or show corrections to false and misleading claims. The legislative changes will also enable the Singaporean government to order media platforms to disable fake accounts or bots that spread misinformation.

Orders could also be sent out to internet service providers to disable internet access to those who are found to be creating or disseminating fake news. 

According to the Bill, misinformation is anything that is against the "public interest". The definitions of "public interest" are vague, and will allow for the Singaporean government to block information so long as it protects the city-state's security, public health or finances, relations with other countries, or the independence of its election outcomes.

Blockable information also includes content resulting in the "diminution of public confidence" in the government or the "incitement of feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill will between different groups of persons". 

Human rights activists have raised concerns with the fake news Bill, with Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson, tweeting the draft legislation "looks like a human rights disaster in the making, with plenty of extra-territorial application to make publishers in Asia and elsewhere very concerned".

The Bill will criminally punish propagators of fake news, with offenders potentially facing fines of up to SG$100,000 or imprisonment of up to 10 years, or both. Offenders may also be fined up to SG$1 million. The criminal penalties will also apply to anyone that makes or uses bots to spread fake news, as well as those who provide services for the purpose of spreading fake news in return for a financial or material benefit.

The move falls in line with moves made by other countries to protect against fake news and harmful content, such as Germany and Australia. The Australian government said it would introduce new laws that apply criminal penalties to media companies that allow videos of serious offences, such as terrorist attacks, to be live-streamed on their platforms.

"Big social media companies have a responsibility to take every possible action to ensure their technology products are not exploited by murderous terrorists," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at the time.

It also follows Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the weekend calling for global internet regulation and for governments around the world to have a "more active role" in governing the internet.

"Regulation could set baselines for what's prohibited and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a bare minimum," Zuckerberg said.

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