Singapore will review existing laws in order to tackle the phenomenon of fake news, as current legislation provides only “limited remedies” to deal with falsehoods, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (April 3).
“The circulation of falsehoods can go viral today very quickly, and so we need to do more,” said Shanmugam, who was speaking in Parliament. “Even when the articles are not totally fake, they are highly misleading , and the whole purpose is to pervade falsehoods and mislead the public.”
Noting that fake news is a global phenomenon that can result in serious consequences for individuals and society, the minister pointed to last year’s US presidential elections and Brexit referendum. One story claimed that Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton had sold weapons to extremist group ISIS, while misleading stories were also published before Brexit that fueled xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment.
“Fake news can be used as a powerful tool to interfere in domestic politics and domestic affairs,” he said. Shanmugam pointed out that the UK has reportedly launched a parliamentary probe into fake news, calling it a threat to democracy. Germany is also considering a draft law to make social media networks like Facebook remove such content from their platforms, with a fine of up to 50 million euros if they fail to comply.
In Singapore, said Shanmugam, fake news has also been a problem, pointing to websites such as The Real Singapore (TRS), The States Times Review and All Singapore Stuff (ASS). For example, last November, ASS claimed that the rooftop of Punggol Waterway Terrace had collapsed, which resulted in police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force being deployed to investigate the claim.
The minister added that former TRS editor Alex Tan is publishing “completely false news from outside of Singapore” under The States Times Review. One article last August claimed that there was a near zero turnout for the funeral of former president SR Nathan and that kindergarten children were forced to attend.
“Hoaxes like these can have real world consequences if not quickly corrected. They can cause harm to Singaporeans, alarm to the public, emergency resources will have to be diverted. And the reputations of businesses, people, can be completely, unreasonably, unfairly damaged, all because some nasty people seek to profit from this.”
Member of Parliament for Mounbatten Lim Biow Chuan also asked Shanmugam if making “false and malicious allegations” against police will become a punishable offence. In response, Shanmugam alluded to a recent The Online Citizen article that claimed police had accused a wheelchair-bound man of motorcycle theft.
The minister responded, “The time has come for us not to simply rebut but to actually actively deal with it — so that the people who seek to profit from such conduct will actually feel the pain of it. We are looking at it and something will be done.”