Singapore’s new draft legislation targeting fake news, while sounding promising on the surface, opens up a range of significant issues and grey areas. “False statements of fact” would be illegal under the proposed law. Anti-censorship critics and supporters of freedom of speech worry that nobler conspiracy theories and strong opinions might be censured along with more blatant mistruths and hate speech, and that at any rate it shouldn’t government being the one with ultimate authority on deciding what gets a pass and what’s deemed unfit to be shared. The differences between misinformation, libel and things best not shared at all are open to question.
Who should judge?
Whether the likes of Google or national governments are better institutions for making tough judgment calls on what constitutes fake news or false advertising is a legitimate question. Whether news articles, social media posts and advertisements should come under the scrutiny of best practices, more stringent rules and regulations or actual laws is the question at hand. Current regulations in Singapore, as elsewhere, are already used to target certain forms of expression. Under the proposed legislation, additional stiff penalties a fine up to S$100,000 or, up to 10 years behind bars, or both, could be applied.
Digital mistruths to be targeted
The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill certainly gives pause for thought on exactly what might or might not be info which is considered to be “prejudicial”, against “public tranquility”, against the spirit of “friendly relations” with other countries, or “an inauthentic online account or controlled by a bot”. Free speech, with effects on digital marketers’ spicier statements on the products and services they promote, could be muffled out of concern of not wanting to come anywhere close to being on the wrong side of the law. If the proposed law becomes official, digital marketers will likely have to find out for themselves exactly what will be allowed under the law.
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