Singapore’s government introduced the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill in the legislature for the first reading on April 1. The Bill, designed to fight online falsehoods, defined as “a statement of fact that is false or misleading,” makes it illegal for individuals or groups to post and share information that may compromise public interest, as interpreted by the government (more specifically, the Minister of Law). In addition, the Bill has an amendment that would strengthen the remedies for victims affected by ‘fake news.’
Individuals found guilty of violating this law could face fines of up to 50,000 SGD (C$49,292) or up to five years in prison. The use of an inauthentic account or one controlled by a bot would raise the fine to 100,000 SGD (C$98,576). Finally, for companies, such as Facebook, the fine would go up to 1 million SGD (C$985,673).
Civil society and members of international organizations swiftly criticized the law for its potential to make the government the arbiter of the truth. Human Rights Watch referred to the Bill as “a blatant violation of free speech and an affront to freedom of the internet” and called for the withdrawal of the law. Similarly, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said, “Singapore needs less, not more regulation, of its online media.” Singaporeans expressed their concerns over the government’s potential abuse of power through the Bill as well.
In response, Minister of Law K. Shanmugam emphasized that the Bill would not cover “criticism, opinions, satire, and parody,” and that through the appeals process, the courts, not the government, would be the “final arbiter of truth.” The Bill is up for the second reading during the next available sitting of Parliament.