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Online falsehoods law will tackle attempts to 'manipulate opinions, influence elections': PM Lee

Online falsehoods law will tackle attempts to 'manipulate opinions, influence elections': PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking at a gala dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of CNA on Mar 29, 2019. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: The proliferation of technology and social media is providing a medium for hate speech and fake news to spread quickly, and legislation is an "essential part" of the answer to tackle these issues, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (Apr 25).

Mr Lee said it has become "absurdly easy" for people to "conduct covert and subversive campaigns to manipulate opinions and influence elections".

"While public education is the first line of defence, legislation is an essential part of the answer, as even (Facebook's founder) Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged," he said during his speech at the 29th Inter-Pacific Bar Association conference at Raffles Convention Centre.

He pointed out that many countries are legislating to tackle the issue, and Singapore is no exception. The Government had tabled the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill in Parliament earlier this month, and the second reading is expected to take place during the next sitting in May.

READ: Singapore proposes multi-pronged law to combat online falsehoods

The proposed law, he said, will hold online platforms accountable and empower the Government to issue correction orders. "Or in serious cases, take-down orders when online platforms publish false statements of facts," the Prime Minister added.

Since the Bill’s introduction, concerns have been raised over various elements of the proposed law, such as its seemingly broad ambit and vague language.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam addressed some of these concerns in an exclusive interview with CNA, pointing out that there are clear oversight mechanisms in place to prevent the Government from abusing the proposed legislation.

READ: Proposed law on falsehoods has ‘clear oversight mechanism’ to prevent abuse by Government, says Shanmugam


The issue of fake news is but one of three examples Mr Lee highlighted to show there are broader trends affecting many countries, and the benefits from studying each other’s experience and approaches.

How countries respond to extremist terrorism and radical incitement to violence is one of these, with the Prime Minister explaining how countries have had to contemplate difficult trade-offs between personal liberties and collective security.

"They have had to consider when to impose restrictions on an individual or group based on their likely intent to do harm rather than acting only after they have committed a crime – when it may well be too late," he said.

Another issue is the rapid growth of e-commerce and how this is impacting how businesses operate.

Mr Lee said with e-commerce, national borders have become porous and physical presence has become optional.

Legal questions such as how sales taxes, import duties and corporate taxation should apply to online transactions have also made the jump from being a theoretical exercise to having a practical significance, he added.

"Countries need to work together to make sure entities existing and operating in cyberspace pay their fair share of taxes in the real world, but they also tussle with one another on the zero sum question of who is to collect and keep the taxes on these online activities," he said.

Singapore announced in its 2018 Budget that there will be a Goods and Services tax (GST) imposed on imported digital services, such as movie and music streaming services and mobile apps, come 2020.

READ: GST to be imposed on digital services from 2020

Active discussions at forums such as the Inter-Pacific Bar Association conference will help participants deepen their understanding of issues and widen their networks, Mr Lee said.

"Ultimately, better informed, more current legal practitioners can only be helpful to the legal systems and the cause of justice in our respective countries," he added.

Source: CNA/kk


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