As the Singapore government appears to continue to wage war against “fake news”, a potential fracas has arisen in relation to Facebook’s (FB) refusal to remove a certain post by The States Times Review that is allegedly “fake news”.
In response to FB’s refusal, the government has declared that FB’s stance has showed that the social media platform “cannot be relied upon to filter falsehoods or protect Singapore from a false information campaign”.
When queried by Channel News Asia, FB has stated that it does not have a policy of removing false content unless such content is very tied to voter suppression or the imminent threat of physical violence in the offline world.”
While it would be ideal if FB could actively remove all false content, I do understand why this might not be feasible or even achievable. FB is a gargantuan operation in a vast number of countries. The ability to police all content at all times is therefore limited. I agree with their exceptions.
With limited resources, it makes sense that news that is very tied to voter suppression or the imminent threat of physical violence in the offline world be prioritised. It is after all not the duty of FB to look after the interests of the Singapore government. Its only duty is to do what it can in accordance with its own policy. This, it has done.
Moving on to Singapore’s take on FB and it using FB’s refusal to bow to its will as a reason to enact regulations, I believe that this reasoning is flawed.
FB is a social media website. Its core objective is to provide a forum for people to get connected. It is not a news website. While FB has to take responsibility to a certain extent given that it has such an immense reach, does its obligations ensure fact-checking the minutiae where there is no harm outside the reputation of a majority government that has been in power for over 50 years?
Apart from a potential loss of reputation on the part of the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) led government, which can be easily rectified by the PAP issuing its own statement and engaging with the online media websites who will be more than happy to be engaged, what is the actual damage caused to the PAP or Singapore?
The PAP should not outsource its duty to earn the trust of its voters to FB. A certain proportion of people will always be conspiracy theorists. However, a larger portion of the population is only susceptible to fake news because there is a distrust for the way information is disseminated by the mainstream media and the government.
That is the issue that must be addressed and that is not the duty of FB. The enactment of regulation will also not solve the problem of a lack of trust. My humble advice is for the government to have greater engagement with the online media sites and especially those where it has less influence or control over. That is the only way to combat fake news.
Pointing the finger at FB is akin to a spoilt child throwing his or her toys out of the pram.