High time for tech firms to “take some responsibility” for the spread of “fake news”: Senior Minister Edwin Tong

In an age where fake news and disinformation appear to spread like wildfire on social media platforms such as Facebook, technology companies should be urged to “take some responsibility” for the spread of such content, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong.

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia in London on Monday (26 Nov), Mr Tong added that while such tech companies are “a part of the problem,” the companies “equally realise” that “they need to be a part of the solution as well.”

“Working with the regulators, with governments … is something that might have taken some time to come round to, but I think they have come round to it.

“So I think the one takeaway we can have is the level of cooperation that we might expect to see from tech companies and also the advent or the use of regulations to ensure that there is compliance at the end of the day,” said Mr Tong.

He added that tech companies need to be prudent in examining the content that gets disseminated through their platforms.

“I think one has to be mindful that you don’t just go downstream in terms of stopping and stemming the tide, but to go upstream and to also look at the content that goes on, and the kind of users, whether they’re authentic or inauthentic,” said Mr Tong.

Mr Tong, along with Senior Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of National Development Sun Xueling and Workers’ Party MP for Aljunied GRC Pritam Singh as representatives for Singapore, is in the capital city of the United Kingdom to attend the International Grand Committee Hearing on Fake News and Disinformation.

The international hearing also includes parliamentarians from the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Argentina, Brazil, Latvia and Australia.

Touching on Singapore’s role in the international hearing, Mr Tong said: “We’ve just completed our Select Committee hearings and we’ve issued a report … we can offer our views as to how we did from our jurisdiction and we’ve also had the benefit of Facebook giving evidence before us in the Select Committee so we can also bring that to the table.”

Mr Tong also commented on the absence of Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg, saying that it is “unfortunate” as “we’ve lost the perspective of someone who is obviously in the thick of dealing with these issues almost on a daily basis.”

However, he added that “it’s useful to see what Richard can say to this,” in reference to vice-president of policy solutions Richard Allen representing Facebook in lieu of Mr Zuckerberg.

Mr Tong elaborated: “Certainly the questions that he’ll be dealing with — concerning what tech companies can do, how they can ensure that the content is better regulated and ensure that information is properly curated, dealt with and put on their platforms — will be useful.”

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported during the hearing at 2.02 p.m. local time (10.02 p.m. Singapore time) that Mr Singh posed a question regarding Facebook’s position on removing posts that could negatively alter the process and outcome of an election, to which Mr Allan replied that it would, as “it wants to work with the authorities”: