Steadfast Singapore: Facebook forced to comply with Singapore’s “fake news” law

January 22, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Facebook has added a correction notice to a post that Singapore’s government said contained false information.

What does this mean?

Singapore recently passed a fake news law also known as the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019. This Act allows the government to order online platforms to remove and correct what it deems to be false statements which are against the public interest. Anyone found guilty could be fined heavily and face a prison sentence of up to 5 years. The law also bans fake accounts or bots who spread fake news.

The correction notice was added to a post by the State Times Review (STR) in which the editor Alex Tan made accusations about the arrest of an alleged whistleblower and election-rigging. The government said that no one was arrested and after asking Mr Tan to correct the post, to which he refused, the government contacted Facebook. Facebook then issued a notice under the post advising that this post has been determined by the Singapore government to contain false information. However, this was only visible to users in Singapore.

What's the big picture effect?

This is the first time Facebook has issued such a notice under the city-state fake news law. However, Facebook has made a statement to the effect that it hopes that this law will not impact on free expression. There are vocal critics who share Facebook’s concerns, for example Amnesty International said that it would “give authorities unchecked powers to clamp down on online views of which it disapproves”. Singapore’s law minister clarified that “freedom of speech should not be affected by the bill as its only aim is to tackle falsehoods, bots, trolls and fake accounts”.

Singapore’s decision to pass such legislation is a clear indication that governments are troubled by the deleterious effect of fake news on law and order and elections. Studies have shown that fake news stories are 70% more likely than true stories to be re-tweeted and that true stories take around 6 times longer to reach 1,500 people. However, as Singapore is ranked 151 out of 180 countries in 2019’s World Press Freedom Index, many are concerned that this Act is another way that the government can restrict the content being shared on social media. Singapore now joins countries such as Russia, France and Germany who have passed tough laws against fake news.

Report written by Maab Saifeldin

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