Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods report: What you need to know

Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods report: What you need to know

Select Committee (1)
Members of the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)

SINGAPORE: The Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods (DOFs) has released a 279-page report containing recommendations to tackle fake news and the guiding principles behind its proposals.

This comes six months after the committee concluded its final hearing in late March, having been formed to study the problem of DOFs and gather evidence through written and oral representations from various segments of society.

During the public hearings, the committee heard from experts, media representatives, tech giants and local rights groups. It received 170 written representations from members of the public.

In its report, the committee concluded that “Government intervention is necessary” to combat DOFs, as it put forward a slew of non-legislative and legislative measures that range from public education to criminal sanctions.

Here's what you need to know:

1) Why the need for Government intervention?

The committee does not believe that DOFs can be stopped naturally through the free flow of information.

It pointed to evidence showing that DOFs can spread faster and be more visible than the truth due to psychological, social and technological factors.

2) What exactly will be considered falsehoods?

Falsehoods concern provable facts, not opinions, philosophical notions of truth, or moral notions of right and wrong, the committee said, adding that the law and the courts have been able to define them.

The committee noted that there have been doubts trying to define issues vaguer than fake news, like whether certain material depicted child exploitation or violent extremism. However, it agreed that this should not stop efforts to combat such material.

3) What will happen to freedom of speech?

The committee said stopping DOFs is in line with the right to free speech, adding that fake news harms democracy.

The committee also recommended that the measures against DOFs be calibrated and not overly broad, noting that falsehoods can have different degrees of impact, from causing minor confusion to threatening national security.

4) What are some of the measures recommended?

Non-legislative measures include public education in schools and encouraging public institutions to respond to DOFs in a timely manner.

Suggested legislative measures include powers to quickly stop the spread and influence of DOFs. These might comprise tagging of corrections and notifications, take-down powers and access-blocking.

5) How will these measures affect you?

The committee has recommended criminal sanctions be imposed on perpetrators of DOFs. These sanctions should be able to cover a range of actors and methods, including masterminds who might not be the creators and spreaders of falsehoods, it added.

But the committee maintained that these deterrent measures should be applied only under certain criteria, including a requisite degree of criminal culpability, for example, intent or knowledge.

“There should be a threshold of serious harm, such as election interference, public disorder, and the erosion of trust in public institutions,” it added.

6) What is the impact on online platforms?

The committee recommended that the Government consider regulating tech companies to prevent perpetrators of DOFs from abusing their platforms and to ensure the companies are more accountable and transparent.

This could mean getting the firms to shut down fake accounts designed to spread DOFs, prohibit the forwarding of such falsehoods and inform users how a platform's design influences the content they receive.

Source: CNA/hz/(hm)