Facebook concerned about ‘rush’ by Singapore to introduce law to combat fake news

A Facebook logo is seen at the Facebook Gather conference in Brussels, Belgium, January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Files
A Facebook logo is seen at the Facebook Gather conference in Brussels, Belgium, January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Files

Facebook is concerned that Singapore appeared to be in “a rush” to introduce a law to combat fake news online, a senior executive of the social media giant told a parliamentary committee on Thursday (22 March).

Simon Milner, Facebook’s vice-president of public policy for Asia-Pacific, was replying to questions from Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam during a hearing before the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods in Parliament.

“Legislation which is enacted in haste can often be regretted. We just need to be really careful about how this gets (to become law),” said Milner.

The Facebook executive, who was questioned by Shanmugam for about two hours before the hearing was adjourned for a coffee break, said, “I am sure given the carefulness with which you have interrogated me today, you will be.”

In response, Shanmugam quipped, “That sounds more like a threat”, prompting laughter among the attendees at the hearing. Milner replied, “It’s a genuine and respectful praise.”

Milner’s comments come as Alvin Tan, Facebook’s Head of Public Policy for Southeast Asia, gave a written submission to the committee on the issue on the same day.

“We do not believe that legislation is the best approach to addressing the issue. Singapore already has a variety of existing laws and regulations which address hate speech, defamation and the spreading of false news,” said Tan in his submission, referring to laws such as the Protection from Harassment Act and the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act.

At the hearing, Milner also told the Committee that Facebook is not “the arbiter of truth” when it comes to posts published by users on its platform.

“We do not have a policy that says everything has to be true and we do not put ourselves in the position of deciding what is true,” Milner said.

If a post were established to be false through the legal process in Singapore, Facebook will comply with any court order to remove the post, he added.

Milner acknowledged the “big problem” of fake news and its potential impact on national security and the fabric of Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious society, and said Facebook wants to work closely with the authorities to tackle the issue.

In response, Shanmugam said, “We do want you to have your business running and doing well. To make it workable, we will need to discuss with you, sit with you, and see how it works.”

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