The Asian Internet Coalition has issued a statement in response to the introduction of the “Protection against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill” in parliament, expressing their concerns that the proposed legislation is giving the Singapore government full discretion over what is considered true or false.
The statement reads as follow:
The Asia Internet Coalition (“AIC”) supports the Singapore Government’s goals of protecting social cohesion, harmony, and the integrity of institutions and political processes.
However, we are deeply disappointed by the lack of meaningful opportunities for public consultation during the drafting process of this bill, given the significant implications it could have for diverse stakeholders, including industry, media and civil society, in Singapore, the region and internationally.
We reiterate our position, which echoes that of many experts around the world, that prescriptive legislation should not be the first solution in addressing what is a highly nuanced and complex issue.
We are also concerned that the proposed legislation gives the Singapore government full discretion over what is considered true or false. As the most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date, this level of overreach poses significant risks to freedom of expression and speech, and could have severe ramifications both in Singapore and around the world.
AIC will be studying the bill in the coming days. We remain committed to working closely with the Government and other stakeholders to tackle misinformation, and hope that the enforcement of this legislation will not be at the expense of the benefits that public debate and exchange of ideas can bring.
AIC is an industry association comprising leading internet and technology companies. Its members are namely: Apple, Facebook, Google, Expedia group, Amazon, LINE, Linkedin, Rakuten, airbmb, Twitter, Yahoo! and Booking.com.
MinLaw: Bill is meant to protect society against damage from online falsehoods
Just yesterday, the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) tabled the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill in Parliament for its 1st reading. The ministry claims that the bill is seeking to protect society against damage from online falsehoods created by malicious actors and it targets falsehoods, not opinions and criticisms.
MinLaw says that the bill is largely about correction and will require the facts to be put up alongside the falsehood, so that the facts can travel together with the falsehood. Online platforms may also be required to ensure that those who previously saw the falsehood also see the correction.
According to MinLaw, the bill also enables the following measures that the government could take:
a. Take down of falsehoods in serious cases, to stop harm to society.
b. Disabling of inauthentic online accounts or bots that are spreading falsehoods against the public interest. This targets the use of inauthentic accounts or bots to manipulate and distort discourse amongst people.
c. Declaration of an online site that repeatedly spreads falsehoods, to cut off its ability to profit, without shutting it down. The online site must have, in the preceding 6 months, published three different falsehoods that are the subject of active Directions, meaning that each falsehood was against the public interest.
What is so troubling in the bill?
Based on the reading of the bill, the Minister can call upon the powers vested in him/her when there is a false statement of fact which has been or being communicated in Singapore or if the Minister think it is in the public interest to exercise the powers.
Despite being a bill to address online falsehoods, there is no definition in the bill to state what determines if a statement is false or who or what entity(ies) will determine the authenticity of the statement. This would mean the Minister can simply point at a statement of fact or any report, and say that it is fake.
The only way to contest the decision is an appeal through the High Court. However, the appeal does not absolve one’s duty to correct or remove the alleged false statement of fact.