Singapore to disrupt digital ad revenue to online falsehood publishers

New laws for fake news in Singapore

According to a Bloomberg report Singapore will clamp down on the spread of fake news with new laws following a recent parliamentary report.

Among the 22 recommendations contained in the nearly 300-page report was a call for legislation to halt the viral spread of fake news “in a matter of hours”.

The government is also considering legislation to disrupt the flow of digital advertising revenue to publishers of fake news online, including criminal sanctions for those who print such news deliberately.

Communications and information senior minister of state and a member of the select committee Janil Puthucheary said that malicious actors had been testing their limits online for years.

“They have essentially been looking for different ways to weaponise falsehoods on the Internet,” he said. “We have set out clear principles to guide Singapore’s response and we have recommended clear and robust measures to be taken by various stakeholders including government, and these include a recommended legislative response.”

Singapore is the latest Asian country looking more closely at “fake news” and social media.

In the run up to a closely-fought election in Malaysia, the government of former prime minister Najib Razak introduced a fake news law that was used to probe his chief opponent Mahathir Mohamad. After Mahathir was elected in May he attempted to repeal the law, but on Sept 13 the opposition-led Senate rejected that bill.

The Singapore Parliament established a Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods – Causes, Consequences and Countermeasures on Jan 10.

“We believe that on the basis of the information provided to us that the nature of falsehoods, and especially deliberate online falsehoods, by their very nature they have the upper hand over the facts,” Puthucheary said.

“They are more easily believed, they travel further, they travel faster, and they are much harder to dislodge.”

The committee examined the use of digital technology to deliberately spread falsehoods online and the reason people did so in addition to the kind of individuals and corporations who engaged in such malicious activities.

At present Singapore has laws to prevent racial and religious strife and other laws that protect national security though some technology companies are worried that there is already too much regulation in this respect.

In a submission to the select committee, the Asia Internet Coalition, an association representing leading technology companies such as Apple Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google, recommended that Singapore consider industry self-regulation and coordination with local authorities, as opposed to a legislative approach.

Responding to the report, Google said that false information was a serious matter, and it was committed to addressing it in collaboration with governments, media and civil society.

“Globally, we’ve improved our search algorithms and introduced new YouTube features to ensure that credible information and authoritative news sources are weighted more heavily,” Google said in an emailed statement. “We support quality journalism and fact checking networks through our Google News Initiative and Google News Lab, which have worked closely with Singaporean media, academics and students.”

Minister for Law who is also on the select committee, K. Shanmugam said that the problem was a serious one and the government was currently in talks with Google and Facebook as it considered legislation.

“Tech companies have a responsibility and the governments have to intervene to ensure that responsibility is taken,” he said though he did not specify a timeline on when the Singapore government would respond to the committee’s recommendations.

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