On 10 April (Wednesday), former Nominated Member of Parliament Calvin Cheng took to his Facebook to criticise a point made by Dr Paul Ananth Tambyah, chairperson of Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), during his interview with TOC.
In the interview, Dr Paul gave his opinion on the proposed “Protection against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation” (POMFA) bill, where he said that the bulk of the population would be able to differentiate between facts and fake news, by giving the example of treating diseases with suitable medication or through drinking fruit juices.
Upon reading his point, Mr Cheng said that it’s “unbelievable” for the chief of SDP to inform people that they should not be worried about fake news as people won’t believe it.
Based on this, he then questioned Dr Paul, “Can he as a medical practitioner tell us how fake news about vaccinations has started an anti-vaccine movement in western countries, which has led to previously eradicated diseases like measles re-emerging?”
After being tagged to the post by another commenter, asking if Dr Paul said what Cheng had implied. Dr Paul clarified in the comment section that this is not what he meant.
The exact point that he wanted to make was that “if there is access to accurate information from reliable sources, news which is obviously will die a natural death”.
Dr Paul explained, “The reasons for the resurgence of measles are complex and include socio-political factors and the single dose regime which is ineffective in settings where natural boosters decline.”
He pointed out that most people, including Mr Cheng, wouldn’t want to be going to jail for a news that’s obviously fake like getting the HPV vaccine will “make their daughters promiscuous”.
“The disappearance of cervical cancer in Australia with its universal vaccination approach which will happen soon will effectively destroy this piece of fake news without the need for overly draconian legislation with its attendant risks of unintended consequences,” he added.
Following the Chief of SDP’s explanation, Mr Cheng responded and said that he still disagrees with Dr Paul.
“The story about Mrs Clinton running a paedophilic ring from a pizza shop was fake as fake can be. And ridiculously so. Yet someone believed it enough to shoot it up. People still believe Obama isn’t American,” he wrote.
He went on further say that fake news doesn’t die and “perhaps as bad as purveyors of fake news are idealistic believers that they will”.
Upon reading Mr Cheng’s view, Facebook user Lewis Lew said that there’s a strong argument indicating that the “birther cause to have done so purely out of a desire to discredit Obama in whatever (fake) way possible”.
In addition, Lew pointed out that fake news in and of itself is deplorable and it has two results. One is that people who knows the accurate information from reliable sources can “clearly judge that on the balance of probabilities”. The other results is that it discredits the person who spreads the fake news in the first place.
In the case of Singapore, Mr Lew said that as a country with stellar education system, people are intelligent and well-educated enough to Google and find out the real answer if they have a doubt about a fact or an issue. As such, he believes fake news law is not at all necessary.
Mr Cheng then went on to emphasis his point by saying that “still a quarter of Republicans and 15% of Independents believed it. That’s what matters”.
Dr Paul then went on to re-emphasise his point that the fake news law should not be passed as people should only be punished if they directly harm anyone.
“We have plenty of laws to punish people who take a gun to a pizza parlour or who defy mandatory measles vaccination laws. I do not believe that people should be punished for what they think or say unless it is directly harmful to anyone else,” he wrote.