SINGAPORE: Legislation to tackle deliberate online falsehoods will be introduced in Parliament on Monday (Apr 1), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Mar 29).
Speaking at a gala dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of CNA, Mr Lee said the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill will be introduced for first reading in Parliament. This comes after the Government accepted the proposals from the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, which included legislation to tackle the problem.
The new Bill will give the Government the power to hold online news sources and platforms accountable if they proliferate deliberate online falsehoods, he said.
“This includes requiring them to show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods so that readers or viewers can see all sides and make up their own minds about the matter.
“In extreme and urgent cases, the legislation will also require online news sources to take down fake news before irreparable damage is done,” the prime minister said.
Mr Lee said that today, there is no shortage of people and groups who conduct coordinated campaigns to produce fake news to misinform and mislead for reasons such as financial gain, to sow social discord or even to radicalise people.
Social media platforms propagate such fake news together with factual stories and are either “unwilling or unable” to take action to block the misinformation, he said.
As other governments study the issue closely and mull measures, a Select Committee was convened in Singapore to better understand and deal with the threat.
“We are particularly vulnerable,” said PM Lee. “We are open and English-speaking, our mobile and Internet penetration rate is high, and being a multiracial and multi-ethnic society, we have enduring fault lines that can be easily exploited.
“If we don't protect ourselves, hostile parties will find it a simple matter to turn different groups against one another and cause disorder in our society.”
LEGISLATION ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH
But Mr Lee stressed that legislation alone is not enough.
“It has to be supplemented by a citizenry effort, alert to the problem of fake news, well informed of what is happening in the world around them and provided with the means to make sound assessments of what they read and hear,” he said, adding that this is no different from Singapore’s approach to preventing crime.
“We have strict laws against crime, which are strictly enforced, but each of us still needs to take our own precautions and be the front line of defence working with the police to keep Singapore crime-free.”
This, he said, is why public education initiatives are important, with students in schools being taught information literacy and cyber wellness, and the National Library Board providing information literacy tips for students, adults and seniors.
The Government, he added, also has a fact-checking website Factually, where the public can obtain accurate information on Government policies or issues of public interest.
CNA WILL CONTINUE TO PLAY A CRITICAL ROLE IN SOCIETY
But Mr Lee added that spotting fake news is “easier said than done”, and in general, people are “overconfident” about their ability to do so.
He cited a recent survey where 8 in 10 Singaporean respondents were confident in their ability to identify fake news. But when they were put to the test and shown 10 news headlines, 9 in 10 of them wrongly identified a fake news headline as being true.
“This is not surprising, because fake news is not always obviously absurd, and even the most intelligent and well-trained of people can fall victim unless they have specific knowledge about the matter,” he said. “Because the whole intent of fake news is to deceive you and to make you believe something that is plausible but in fact is false.”
CNA, he said, will therefore continue to play a critical role in society, and he urged the news provider to continue upgrading itself, investing in its people, building new capabilities and taking advantage of Singapore’s status as a media and technology hub.
“Maintain links with the media and tech companies here, learn from them and build partnerships and networks so that you stay always up to date on industry developments,” he said. “We can be certain that fresh forms of new media, many not yet invented, will regularly emerge and force you to change the way you work.
“You must be quick to spot them, respond to them, and if possible use them to reach audiences old and new.”
The Government, he said, will continue to work hand in hand with CNA.
“We share an interest in fostering an informed society through quality journalism, and we will continue to work with you to promote national and social objectives through our public service broadcast programmes," said Mr Lee.