This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
A bill has passed in Singapore allowing the government to fine tech companies and individuals millions of dollars if they fail to remove fake news. The new law comes under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, which makes it illegal to spread false statements that threaten Singapore’s security, public safety, “public tranquillity,” and the “friendly relations of Singapore with other countries.” Digital firms and human rights groups, however, have kicked back against the laws over fears they pose a threat to freedom of speech, Reuters reports.
Singaporean ministers will decide whether a post constitutes fake news, and will then be able to demand that such posts are either corrected, removed, or become the subject of legal action. They can also demand that sites or accounts get blocked. All posts deemed false will require platforms like Facebook to put warning signs on them and remove comments that go against the “public's interest.”
The move comes just days after Mark Zuckerberg asked governments to increase their regulation of online platforms. In light of the outcome, however, Facebook’s vice president of Public Policy Simon Miller said the company was concerned over how the law will "grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a government notification to others".
Jeff Paine, managing director of the Asia Internet Coalition, told Reuters: “As the most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date, this level of overreach poses significant risks to freedom of expression and speech, and could have severe ramifications both in Singapore and around the world.”
Phil Robertson, the deputy direct of Asia’s division of the Human Rights Watch, also criticised the bill for the way it gives the Singaporean government power to manipulate the news feed. “The definitions in the law are broad and poorly defined, leaving maximum regulatory discretion to the government officers skewed to view as “misleading” or “false” the sorts of news that challenge Singapore’s preferred political narratives,” he said.
Singapore’s Law Minister K. Shanmugam defended the legislation, claiming it “deals with false statements of facts. It doesn’t deal with opinions, it doesn’t deal with viewpoints. You can have whatever viewpoints however reasonable or unreasonable.”
In the most severe cases, individuals can face fines of up to SGD $100,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison. For companies like Facebook, fines can reach SGD $1 million.