Singapore isn’t waiting for Facebook to crack down on fake news

Facebook Inc reported quarterly revenue roughly in line with expectations and profit that beat analysts’ forecasts, and despite scandals around fake news and election interference, it added more users, too. (Bloomberg pic) 

SINGAPORE: Singapore plans to introduce tough new laws to hold online outlets accountable for the spread of fake news, joining countries around the world in putting pressure on companies like Facebook Inc to address the issue.

The new measures will require online sites to show corrections to false or misleading claims and take down falsehoods, according to a bill tabled in Parliament on Monday by the government.

Account restriction directions can be issued to a platform to disable a fake account or bot that spreads a falsehood undermining the public interest, the government said in parliament. These directions can be appealed in a court.

The bill also intends to impose criminal sanctions – including fines of up to S$1 million and 10 years in prison – against those who spread an online falsehood with intent to prejudice the public interest, and those who make a bot to spread an online falsehood.

The sanctions will also apply to anyone providing services for the purpose of spreading falsehoods in return for a reward.

“There are a lot of falsehoods being propagated,” Singapore Law Minister K Shanmugam told reporters on Monday. “If they are not dealt with, then free speech itself will be undermined, democracy will be undermined, public institutions will be undermined.”

The government’s move comes just days after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called for new global regulations for everything from hate speech online to privacy and data protection.

While Facebook asked for regulators around the world to agree on standards for online content, governments like Singapore see the issue as serious enough that they need to take more immediate action.

Global concerns

Singapore will be joining countries like France and Germany in adopting legislation to counter fake news and apply regulatory oversight over digital platforms for the content they carry.

It’s part of an Asia Pacific-wide crackdown on the malicious use of online media.

Australia said on Saturday it will adopt tough new laws to prevent social platforms from being “weaponised” by terrorists who may use them to live-stream violent crimes, such as the March 15 attack on two mosques in New Zealand that killed 50 people.

In India – which is set to begin its federal election on April 11 – Facebook announced it had enlisted five new organisations to help with fact-checking that will review news stories on the platform and rate their accuracy.

In his post online over the weekend, Zuckerberg said the company is seeking regulations that would set baselines for prohibited content and require companies to build systems for keeping harmful content to a minimum. “From what I’ve learned, I believe we need new regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability,” he wrote.

The Singapore Parliament established a Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods – Causes, Consequences and Countermeasures in Jan last year.

There’s already several laws in place to prevent the incitement of racial and religious discord in Singapore, as well as other laws covering libel and issues considered a threat to national security.