A piece of legislation specifically targeting the proliferation of “fake news” will soon make its way into Parliament, just over a year after the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods was formed.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed on Fri (29 Mar) that the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill will be read for the first time in the House on Monday (1 Apr), following the Government’s approval of the recommendations made by the Committee.
Speaking at a gala dinner celebrating the 20th anniversary of Channel NewsAsia, which has since adopted the brand name of CNA, Mr Lee highlighted that under the new Bill, the Government will have the authority to instruct online news platforms to “show corrections or display warnings about online falsehoods so that readers or viewers can see all sides and make up their own minds about the matter”.
“In extreme and urgent cases”, added Mr Lee, “the legislation will also require online news sources to take down fake news before irreparable damage is done”.
As an “open and English-speaking” country with “a multiracial and multi-ethnic society” and a high “mobile and Internet penetration rate”, he added that Singapore and its citizens “are particularly vulnerable” to the spread of fake news and the dangers posed by such deliberate misinformation.
“If we don’t protect ourselves, hostile parties will find it a simple matter to turn different groups against one another and cause disorder in our society,” warned PM Lee.
WATCH: PM Lee’s speech at the gala celebrating CNA’s 20th anniversary
Anti-“fake news” laws as a standalone measure is insufficient; citizens need to be well-equipped with skills to discern fake news from the real deal: PM Lee
While it is crucial for policymakers to push for strict laws such as the upcoming Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill in the war against “fake news”, Mr Lee stressed that such laws must “be supplemented by a citizenry effort”, which will encourage Singaporeans to be “alert to the problem of fake news, well-informed of what is happening in the world around them and provided with the means to make sound assessments of what they read and hear”.
He cited public information literacy initiatives by the National Library Board (NLB) and the Government’s fact-checking website Factually, in addition to a new fact-checking resource toolkit by the Media Literacy Council, as examples of how public education on online disinformation can supplement anti-“fake news” legislation.
“We have strict laws against crime, which are strictly enforced, but each of us still needs to take our own precautions and be the front line of defence working with the police to keep Singapore crime-free,” he added.
However, Mr Lee acknowledged that despite such public information literacy efforts, detecting fake news is “easier said than done”.
Citing a recent survey where 8 in 10 Singaporean respondents claimed to have confidence in their ability to identify fake news, Mr Lee noted that 9 in 10 of them had wrongly identified a fake news headline, out of 10 news headlines, as being true.
“This is not surprising, because fake news is not always obviously absurd, and even the most intelligent and well-trained of people can fall victim unless they have specific knowledge about the matter … The whole intent of fake news is to deceive you and to make you believe something that is plausible but in fact is false,” he said.
CNA “play a critical role in society” as a “reliable” news source; Govt will continue to work together with the mainstream news platform: PM Lee
Singapore’s media landscape has evolved into a “far more cacophonous space”, and this is where mainstream news platforms such as CNA “play a critical role in society” as an established news source, according to Mr Lee.
“Viewers, readers and listeners need to know where they can get reliable and factual news. They know that you have researched and verified your stories, and organised and presented them as objectively as possible.
“They look to your brand and track record, and trust you to help them make sense of how and why things are happening, in order to form a coherent and accurate view of the world, and make their own well informed judgements and decisions,” he stressed.
Noting that CNA has become the “go-to channel” for key news events in Asia, Mr Lee underlined the need for the mainstream news platform to utilise Singapore’s position as a media and technological hub in the region.
“Maintain links with the media and tech companies here, learn from them and build partnerships and networks so that you stay always up to date on industry developments,” he said.
“We can be certain that fresh forms of new media, many not yet invented, will regularly emerge and force you to change the way you work … You must be quick to spot them, respond to them, and if possible use them to reach audiences old and new,” urged Mr Lee.
He assured that the Government will continue to work together with CNA in order to cultivate “an informed society through quality journalism”, in addition to promoting “national and social objectives” via Singapore’s “public service broadcast programmes”.
“We intend to be an impartial provider of accurate information and insights, and a source to uplift the standards of journalism and knowledge amongst the public,” said Mr Lee.