IMDA to set up POFMA office to administer fake news law: S Iswaran

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Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran. (PHOTO: Parliament screencap)
Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran. (PHOTO: Parliament screencap)

SINGAPORE — A new office will be set up within the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) to administer the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMA), said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran on Wednesday (8 May).

Speaking during the second reading of the Bill, Iswaran said IMDA’s experience in administering the Broadcasting Act and other content regulation policies, as well as its regular interaction with media and tech companies, will be relevant to the administration of POFMA.

“This POFMA Office will support the portfolio ministers with technical advice on the precedents, the types of levers available, their feasibility, and their effectiveness,” he said, adding that this will “provide consistency across government in the implementation of the Bill”, he added, without giving a timeline for its creation.

Under the new law, a minister can order or direct an individual to issue a correction alongside content deemed false, or to take down the content.

The law will also give ministers the power to direct online sites such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to put warnings next to posts that are deemed false.

Codes of practice

In his speech, Iswaran said the POFMA Office will also issue codes of practice for technology companies.

“These codes will apply only to prescribed digital advertising and Internet intermediaries, and we are now developing them in consultation with these intermediaries,” he said.

The codes aim to prevent and counter the misuse of online accounts, where malicious actors hide behind online anonymity.

They also aim to enhance the transparency of political advertising, by requiring that intermediaries disclose the sources of such advertisements.

“These measures will reduce the ability to place political digital advertisements anonymously, mitigating the abuse of digital advertising tools to distort political debate with falsehoods,” said Iswaran.

The codes also aim to de-prioritise online falsehoods, thus ensuring that credible content is given prominence.

In developing the codes, the POFMA office will take reference from international norms including the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation, as well as consult with companies and international experts.

Portfolio ministers

Iswaran also explained to Parliament why the new law vested authority in portfolio ministers.

“The minister, supported by his ministry’s officials and resources, would have the requisite domain expertise to make an assessment and act quickly to stem the potential harm arising from an online falsehood,” he said.

Aggrieved parties can appeal against the minister’s decision in court, and accountability is ensured as the minister is also answerable in Parliament.

“Therefore, in assigning the powers under the Bill to portfolio ministers, the Bill correctly locates authority with accountability, supported by the requisite knowledge and expertise to make swift decisions,” added Iswaran.

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