PM Lee Hsien Loong with Senior General Min Aung Hlaing whose Facebook account was removed.

Strange for government to target “fake news” with regulations while open to working with tyrannical regimes which Facebook itself has condemned

In a move that has been described as “unusually prompt”, Facebook has removed 18 accounts and 52 pages associated with the Myanmar military, including the page of its commander-in-chief, after a UN report accused the armed forces of genocide and war crimes. I applaud this swift action.

As many have already noted, social media plays a major role in the spread of news, information and propaganda. In our day and age, this is the reality of life. While social media sites have enabled dark secrets of corruption to be leaked, it has also enabled to spread of fake news. As we speak, the United States is embroiled in a debate as to the role Russian influence affected their election results. The answer lies less in government regulation but more in citizen education and corporate responsibility. Regulation would clamp down against all news outlets fake or otherwise while corporate responsibility coupled with a citizenry educated to be more discerning would permit flexibility without fear of outright lies.

With the strife caused by Brexit in the United Kingdom and the controversy generated by the Trump election, one can be forgiven for concluding that democracy and governmental structures in its current form have failed. If government agencies can no longer be trusted, what can? In steps the large corporate which wields considerable power and influence.

Take Amazon for example. As one of the largest corporations in the world, it employs more people than some countries have citizens! If it were to step up and take a stand, its voice will be loud. As consumers, we can also hold these corporates to account with our wallet. If you don’t like what a corporate is doing, don’t support them! There are options which may not be available in the political arena. Perhaps the answer lies in regulating the activities of the corporates instead of policing the actions of small news outlets.

Increasingly, the corporates are finding their voice and flexing their muscles. While they may end up being just the same as governments, my argument is that they can be kept more accountable if we shop and spend ethically and wisely. If Facebook has taken swift steps, it could be in large part because of the flak they faced over the US elections and if they are prepared to now always take swift action, this could be more effective than any governmental regulation chiefly because government regulation could potentially be self serving, utilised to protect itself than the people. True people power is when the corporates, the government and the people hold equal power.

From a Singaporean perspective, the government is more inclined to silence errant alternative news outlets online rather than to allow the two pronged efforts of social media sites to take the lead and the education of its people to take effect. It seems strange that while the government is targeting “fake news” with regulations, it remains open to working with tyrannical regimes which Facebook itself has condemned. It is not a secret that the Singapore government has always worked with the army generals within the upper echelons of power in Myanmar, enabling the generals to grow their riches. These are the same generals that are rumoured to be perpetuating the violence against the Rohingya Muslims while limiting Aung San Suu Kyi’s hand.

How does this gel with Singapore’s handling of “fake news”.