Regulating online falsehoods is ‘new area’ for Singapore Government, says S Iswaran

Regulating online falsehoods is ‘new area’ for Singapore Government, says S Iswaran

The new Bill will help the Government take appropriate action against online falsehoods that harms public interest, but everyone plays a part to safeguard the integrity of online discourse, says the Communications and Information Minister.

SINGAPORE: The regulation of the online falsehoods domain is a “new area” for the Government, as it is for technology companies to comply, which is why both “will have to learn to work together” to ensure the objectives of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill are met.

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“We’re dealing with a domain that is hitherto not been regulated as such,” Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran said. “And therefore, I’m sure this will be a new set of circumstances that they’ll have to deal with.”

He made the comments in a doorstop interview on Monday, when the Bill was first tabled in Parliament.

He added it would be a process going forward, but stressed that the Government has sought to engage with the tech companies throughout this process of looking at deliberate online falsehoods and coming up with the legislation.

“We regard them as partners, not adversaries,” he explained. “We want to work with them, because we have a common interest in ensuring these platforms are trustworthy and reliable.”

With regard to the actual mechanics of when a direction is issued to tech companies, Mr Iswaran said after a falsehood is identified and a direction issued, tech companies will have to respond in terms of how they can meet that direction – and this is when a discussion can take place.

“But I think we are quite clear that the intent is to ensure that a falsehood, and its potential to influence users of the Internet and social media platforms, must be corrected early and effectively,” he added.

WILL NEW LAW STIFLE FREE SPEECH?

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam also addressed concerns that some of the definitions in the Bill could be too broad and stifle free speech, saying in a separate interview that this legislation deals with false statements of fact.

READ: Shanmugam warns 'serious consequences can follow’ when countries are lax about hate speech

“It doesn’t deal with opinions, it doesn’t deal with viewpoints. You can have whatever viewpoints, however reasonable or unreasonable,” he said.

The minister also pointed out that people are putting falsehoods into the marketplace, to confuse others and to change the terms of debate, which, in fact, undermines free speech and democracy.

So, the approach for the website that carried the whole false statement of fact is to carry another statement saying the first statement is inaccurate or untrue, Mr Shanmugam said, adding that this encourages free speech.

“There are more viewpoints for you to have, rather than be restricted in what is said to be just false. So, I don't see how it affects free speech,” he said.

The minister also pointed out that criminal sanctions will not apply to ordinary citizens who inadvertently share online falsehoods.

He said criminal sanctions only apply when they was deliberateness in the conduct, in that the perpetrator knew it was a falsehood and that it impacts on public interest. “Innocent sharing won’t attract criminal responsibility,” Mr Shanmugam said.

Source: CNA/kk

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