Tech giants like Google, Twitter and Facebook have reacted with quite worrying after Singapore proposed laws against fake news allowing authorities to order the content removal and impose heavy fines, in what critics say is an assault on speech that is free.
The government unveiled a bill last week containing measures that are quite tough, including powers for all the ministers to order social media sites such as Facebook to put warnings next to posts authorities believe to be false and in most extreme cases take them down.
If an action is deemed damaging and malicious to interests of Singapore, organizations could be hit with fines of up to SGD 1 million ($740,000). Individuals could easily face jail terms of up to approximately 10 years.
Authorities in the country that is tightly-controlled – long criticized for restricting liberties of the civil – insist the measures are quite necessary to stop the circulation of multiple falsehoods which could sow divisions in the multi-ethnic city-state.
But freedom groups of press condemned the proposals, saying they could stifle online discussion, as did all the tech organizations which have big investments in the city that is ultra-modern.
As the legislation that is most far-reaching of its kind till date, this level of overreach poses multiple significant risks to freedom of speech and expression, said the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association whose several members include Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
Simon Milner, vice president of Facebook of public policy in Asia-Pacific, said the social media giant was worried about potentially being compelled to remove all the content.
Giving people a place to completely express themselves safely and freely is quite important to us and we have a responsibility to handle any request of the government to remove alleged misinformation thoughtfully and carefully, he said in a statement.
The Internet is actually quite a free space in Singapore and there are some local alternative news websites, that are typically much more critical of the authorities than the traditional, pro-government TV and newspapers.
The country Singapore is among various multiple countries pushing the legislation to fight fake news, and the government stressed ordering corrections to be placed alongside various falsehoods would be the primary response, rather than fines or jail.
A decision of the government can also be appealed to the courts.
K. Shanmugam, home and law affairs minister, said in a post on Facebook that the proposed law targets false statements of fact – not criticisms, not opinions.
Ultimately, disagreement over falsity and truth will be decided by the courts.
Facebook, Google, and Twitter have their Asia headquarters in Singapore, a city of 5.6 million population which is popular with expats as it is developed, efficient and safe.
But there were already signs of tensions with various tech organizations as the government prepared to unveil the laws. During parliamentary hearings last year about tackling online several falsehoods, Facebook and Google urged the government not to introduce any new laws.
In November, Facebook refused a polite request to remove an article linking Singapore to a scandal that is financial in Malaysia which the government said was untrue – prompting the ministry of law to say the firm, cannot be relied upon to filter these falsehoods.
Critics say one of the most concerning aspects of the new legislation is that it is up to several authorities to decide what is false and what is actually not.
While the law authorities insist decisions can be appealed, Kirsten Han, the Singapore-based regional news editor site New Naratif, said most people do not have the will or the resources to fight the government alone.
Robert Williams is a self-professed security expert; he has been making the people aware of the security threats. His passion is to write about Cybersecurity, malware, social engineering, Games, internet and new media. He writes for Netgear Router products at mcafee.com/activate.