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Singapore urged to make new laws to tackle spread of fake news

Parliamentary committee says new rules are needed because social media companies are ‘generally not acting against’ online falsehoods

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 7:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2018, 10:27pm

A Singapore parliamentary committee said on Thursday the government should consider legislation to ensure technology companies rein in online fake news and those responsible for it are punished.

The committee, set up to make recommendations on fighting “deliberate online falsehoods”, said measures were needed as companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter “have a policy of generally not acting against” content known to be false.

“I think there is increasing recognition on all sides that there has to be responsibility on the part of tech companies and that governments have to intervene to ensure that responsibility,” Law Minister Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, a member of the panel, told reporters.

He said the government’s response to the recommendations had to be “urgent and serious”.

Global tech companies have expressed concern about Singapore’s plans to bring in new laws to tackle fake news, saying sufficient rules are already in place.

In a statement on Thursday, Google said it took “the issue of false information seriously” and looked forward to working with the Singapore government to address the issue.

‘Singapore’s laws to stop fake news could backfire,’ according to Google and Facebook

Twitter said it also cared “deeply about the issues of misinformation” and its “potentially harmful effects on the civic and political discourse”. It said it expected the Singapore government to engage with the industry “on the full range of approaches to address these issues”.

The committee’s report also said criminal sanctions should be imposed on perpetrators of deliberate online falsehoods and there should be a “threshold of serious harm such as election interference, public disorder, and the erosion of trust in public institutions”.

Activists worry that laws aimed at stopping fake news could be used by governments to stifle free speech and target legitimate news outlets that criticise them.

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Another of the committee’s recommendations was for media organisations to consider establishing a “fact-checking-coalition”, although it said consideration was needed over whether the government should be involved.

Singapore ranks 151 out of 180 countries in a World Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders, a non-government group that promotes freedom of information.