Singapore’s fake news bill set to become law in 2H

The aim is to equip S’poreans with facts so they can engage in public discourse, says minister

SINGAPORE • Singapore’s fake news laws will likely come into effect in the second half (2H) of this year, as the country joins the ranks of nations trying to curb the spread of online falsehoods.

The aim of the proposed laws isn’t to suppress information, but rather to equip Singaporeans with facts so they can engage in public discourse, Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran (picture) told Bloomberg Television yesterday.

Singapore sought feedback from technology and media companies during the drafting of the bill, he said.

“This bill and what we are intending here does not in any way impinge on criticism, opinion, satire or parody,” he said in an interview.

The South-East Asian country announced plans this month to introduce tough new laws to hold online outlets accountable for the spread of fake news, putting pressure on companies like Facebook Inc to address the issue.

The social media giant and its peers have come under pressure globally over the way they handle user privacy, rein in fake news and monitor offensive or violent content.

After the bill was announced, Facebook, Google Inc and an industry group representing Internet and technology giants expressed worries over the Singapore proposal, with the latter calling it the “most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date”.

Their concerns include aspects of the law that grants broad powers to the government to compel the firms to remove content it regards as false, a lack of public consultation during the drafting process of the bill, and risks to freedom of expression and speech.

Iswaran said Singapore’s engagement with technology companies encompasses a broad range.

“It’s also about Singapore’s role as a business hub, Singapore’s involvement in various kinds of research and development and artificial intelligence, etc.

“On this matter, I think we have an alignment in the sense that all of us are seeking to ensure that online discourse is informed by the facts.

“I think we are approaching it in different ways and I think there’s a way forward where we can work together.”

The new Singapore measures require online sites to show corrections to false or misleading claims and take down falsehoods in serious cases, according to a bill put forward in Parliament.

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. These directions can be appealed in a court. — Bloomberg