Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong said in Parliament on Tuesday (7 May) that the proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA) will cover closed communications platforms such as private chat groups and social media groups, as well as those with end-to-end encryption that only permits messages to be exchanged between senders and receivers.
While speaking at the debate for the proposed new law to combat fake news, Mr Tong expressed that closed channels like chat groups and social media groups serve as “a public megaphone” just as much as open ones.
“As falsehoods can be hidden from view, they are ideal platforms for the deliberate spread of falsehoods. Researchers believe that in closed spaces, people are more susceptible to emotive falsehoods, because these are the spaces inhabited by the familiar and the trusted,” he noted.
He added, “The Bill therefore recognises that platforms that are closed are not necessarily private. They can be used not only for personal and private communications, but also to communicate with hundreds or thousands of strangers at a time”.
Under the Bill, ministers will be allowed to have the power to issue a correction direction or stop communication direction – basically to compel an individual or company/website to issue a correction of the ‘falsehood’ or remove the content entirely, if they say a certain content is fake.
Corrections will be handed out in the form of a notice, warning people about the falsehood, and this notice can display the facts or provide a link to the facts, said Mr Tong.
Apart from the normal correction that is magnified or published on platforms such as news outlets and Internet intermediaries, the correction can also be possibly targeted and act as a warning tag on falsehood, the minister added.
Apart from that, Mr Tong also pointed out that directions can be given against false statements communicated on the Internet, regardless of the platform and whether they’re open or closed.
In addition, the minister also mentioned that general correction notice can be issued for closed communications channels with end-to-end encryption.
Under POFMA, the directions are also “flexible enough to deal with falsehoods spread on platforms that are developed in the future”, added Mr Tong.
After this information was published for the public to read, many online users were displeased with the extent the Government is going with POFMA and how it is now invading their privacy. Commenting their thoughts on The Straits Times’ Facebook page, netizens opined that this move is disturbing and it “sounds a lot like dictatorship”. Mohd Iskandar added that this seems like censorship, but only that it mainly benefits the Ministers and Government.
Some even called for a new Government in the next election and asked the public to vote wisely, in order to put an end to this draconian law. In addition, Yeekee Hoo pointed out that Ministers are just regular humans who are bound to make mistakes. As such, he questioned the logic of giving humans the absolute power in deciding what is fake and not, as well the guarantee that these Ministers will not abuse the power given to them.