Following Malaysia, Russia, and Vietnam who have passed similar laws, Singapore is now following in their footsteps with the passing of their latest fake news bill, despite concerns raised by journalists, academics and global technology companies over free speech and abuse of power.
The Protection of Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill which was passed with a 72-9 parliamentary vote on Wednesday will come into effect in the coming few weeks. The law equips the government with sweeping powers to police online media and free speech including social media.
The new Singapore fake news bill grants the government the ability to demand corrections, blocking of websites, and order the removal of content which are deemed to be propagating falsehoods contrary to the public interest.
Singapore already has a reputation for stifling freedom of expression, whereby its press freedom is ranked 151 out of 180 countries according to Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organisation that tracks freedom of information.
“Singaporeans have every reason to fear that this law is designed to gag online expression once and for all. It criminalises free speech and allows the government almost unfettered power to censor dissent. It doesn’t even provide any real definition of what is true or false or, even more worrying, ‘misleading’,” says Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia, prior to the bill being passed.
Penalties for breaking the law include jail time for up to 10 years for individuals and steep fines.
According to the law, those found to be “malicious actors” face a fine of up to SG$50,000 ($37,000) or five years in prison for their content. If posted using “an inauthentic online account or a bot,” the fine jumps to a maximum of SG$100,000 ($74,000) or a potential 10-year jail term. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter face fines of up to SG$1 million ($740,000) for their role in such situations.
However, as of now it remains unclear on how the government might access encrypted chats on apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which are also part of its focus.
Malaysia’s own controversial Anti-Fake News Act 2018 passed by the Najib Razak-led government in Malaysia is still in effect despite Mahathir Mohamad’s intention on repealing it after taking over as Prime Minister.
Mahathir’s first attempt at repealing the law has failed as Malaysia’s opposition-led Senate has blocked the effort to repeal the fake news law.
More like this