Colin Goh opines POFMA can prosecute any “cheeky prankster” in the name of satire

On Monday (9 September), Colin Goh, founder of the satirical humour website Talking Cock and creator of the Coxford Singlish Dictionary, took to his Facebook to share his thoughts on Media Literacy Council’s (MLC) latest sage of labelling satire as an example of fake news.

For those who are not aware, MLC on 5 September wrote on a Facebook posting stating that fake news can come in multiple forms, which include – false context, imposter content, manipulated content, misleading content, clickbait and satire.

However, under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), which was recently passed this year, it does not cover opinion, criticism, parody and satire.

As expected, MLC’s post garnered widespread criticism from the public as they pointed out that satire is not part of fake news.

Following that, MLC removed its post on Saturday (7 September) and issued an apology the next day for the confusion it caused.

“We acknowledged that the post and infographic gave the wrong impression that satire was fake news, which was not the intent. We are sorry for the confusion and will review our material,” MLC said in a Facebook post.

It added, “The aim of the post was to raise awareness among youth and the general public about the need to be aware of the ways in which misinformation or fake news can be spread, ad encourage readers to understand the context in which information is presented. This is part of MLC’s work to encourage online discernment.”

In response to this saga, Mr Goh concurs that MLC’s action of including satire as ‘fake news’ was indeed “cack-handed”. However, he felt that some people are slightly crossing the line by painting MLC’s characterisation as “malicious”.

He went on to say that he agrees that the satirical articles that he wrote on his website were “literally fake news” as they were content that he created, and decided to write them in a faux-journalism style.

“Of course I intended for them to be clearly false, through the use of obviously fake names or patently ridiculous assertions, but sometimes folks who lacked the necessary context (or intelligence) just couldn’t tell,” he wrote.

In fact, Mr Goh said that the piece he wrote about a man with the worst job in Singapore (a Mandai zookeeper tasked with collecting animal semen) is the most circulated article in his website. He added that renowned mainstream international media organisations have republished it, even though they should know better.

As such, Mr Goh noted that the main problem here “isn’t really about whether one needs to prohibit satirical work because it might be false or misleading” as he now agrees that satire is an ineffective tool for social media.

“Rather, the bigger danger is legislation like Singapore’s perhaps well-intentioned but nevertheless egregious Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), which opens any cheeky prankster to potential prosecution, and eventually leads to the chilling of public discourse,” he stated.

He added, “I’d like to believe POFMA will be wielded responsibly, but judging by examples in many jurisdictions worldwide, no one should remain sanguine about the possibility of abuse, especially in these dangerous times.”

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