SINGAPORE — After two years spent studying the threat of fake news, the Republic is taking things a step further with the introduction of sweeping new laws that will, among other things, give Government ministers broad powers to quickly stop the dissemination of online falsehoods and punish those who create and spread them.
These new laws, which will come under a new Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, were tabled in Parliament on Monday (April 1).
The proposed new laws come after a parliamentary committee was set up to study the issue of deliberate online falsehoods and make recommendations on how to fight the scourge.
From fines that could go as high as S$1 million for those found guilty of using falsehoods to undermine society to an explainer about the repercussions of forwarding a fake WhatsApp message, here is a list of TODAY’s stories on the topic which you might have missed:
CRIMINAL SANCTIONSThe new laws on fake news will not target individuals who innocently share a fake news post or article. In short, they will not be prosecuted.
Requiring online news sources to publish corrections alongside the falsehoods will be the primary response.
However, “malicious actors” who deliberately use falsehoods to undermine public interest may be charged with criminal offences. They can be fined and/or jailed.
Such offences include making false statements, programming bots to quickly circulate fake news, or not complying with orders issued by government ministers...
DEFINITIONS OF FALSEHOOD AND PUBLIC INTERESTGiven the concerns that the sweeping new laws might stifle free speech, the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) stressed in a statement on Monday that the Bill “targets falsehoods", not opinions and criticisms.
“The Bill defines a falsehood as a statement of fact that is false or misleading. It does not cover opinions, criticisms, satire or parody,” it added.
Ministers can only issue orders subject to the fact that the statements are falsehoods and that the orders are in the public’s interest.
The legislation spells out the meaning of public interest, which covers six areas: Orders can be issued in the interest of the security of Singapore or any part of Singapore, to protect public health or public finances, or to secure public safety or public tranquillity as well as in the interest of the friendly relations between Singapore and other countries.
WHAT CAN THE GOVT DO TO TECH GIANTS?Under the proposed laws, the Government may direct Internet intermediaries — including social networking giants such as Facebook and Twitter — to issue a correction to users here who have accessed a falsehood or to disable user access to it, for instance.These platforms may also be directed to publish a general correction to users.Mr Shanmugam said that some technology firms have expressed a preference to take down a falsehood, rather than issue a correction.“Our own preference is that, actually, leave the material there. Just have something which says, ‘This is inaccurate. For the truth, go to such-and-such a place’,” he said.He added that having material taken down too often affects confidence, and corrections are a better approach.When asked about the mechanisms in place if technology firms, especially those based overseas, fail to comply, Mr Shanmugam said that the law deals with the impact of falsehoods in Singapore, wherever the firms are based.“Within Singapore, if the order is made, there has to be compliance. There will be sanctions for non-compliance. But of course, tech companies or anyone can challenge the order and then the courts will have to decide.”
Online vigilantes be warned: It will soon be a crime to publish someone else’s personal information with the intention to harass, threaten or facilitate violence against them. Victims of this offence — called doxxing — will be able to seek recourse from the law.
Note: These are only examples. Ultimately, whether a doxxing offence is made out depends on the context within which the identity information is published. The courts will interpret the law and decide each case based on its own facts. Source: Ministry of Law
What is doxxing What is not doxxing Posting a person’s personal information on social media and encouraging others to "teach him a lesson". Posting a video of a person driving recklessly, on an online forum where people share snippets of dangerous acts of driving, with the intention to warn people to drive defensively. Publishing a false social media post stating that someone is a “prostitute” and including the person’s photos and contact details so that others can contact the person easily. Sharing a person’s personal information with the emergency services or other public authorities for necessary action. Posting a video of a publicly known person containing his contact information, calling for others to threaten or attack the person. Posting a video of a publicly known person where that person is being asked questions about publicly known facts in an interview.
‘No impact on free speech’: Law Minister says laws to curb fake news target false statements of facts, not opinionsWhat happens if the Government is the one spreading the fake news? Is pushing out the laws on fake news a signal that a general election could be held this year? Tough questions posed to the Law Minister.
Asked by reporters whether the new laws could potentially be abused by the Government since it determines what a falsehood is and also imposes the punishment, Mr Shanmugam said that there is a need to have the laws to counter the “virality” of online falsehoods and harmful content such as hate speech and extremist materials.He noted that the new laws allow those accused of putting out false statements to appeal to the High Court against the Government’s orders, with the courts ultimately having the final say in determining whether a statement is a falsehood.“If the person who has put it out feels that what he or she has said is true, challenge it. And anyway, it’s not as if, primarily, he or she is required to take it down. So, what is the abuse?” Mr Shanmugam asked.Furthermore, online news sources carrying fake news would be asked to publish corrections and direct readers to other platforms “for the truth”, he said.“How is that an abuse… In fact, it’s calibrated to allow for a more informed discussion on issues.”
KEY OFFENCES YOU NEED TO KNOWCommunication of False StatementsThis means a false statement has been made, and the statement is determined by a Minister to have gone against public interest.Penalties for individuals: A fine of up to S$50,000 or a maximum jail term of five years or both.Penalties for entities: A fine of up to S$500,000.Using Inauthentic Account or a BotUsing an inauthentic online account or a bot to communicate falsehoods and to circulate fake news at a faster speed is also an offence.Penalties for individuals: A fine of up to S$100,000 or a maximum jail term of 10 years or both.Penalties for entities: A fine of up to S$1 million.Making or Altering Bots to Spread Fake News FasterThere are individuals and entities out there that are adept in programming bots to circulate fake news faster. It is an offence to do so under the new laws or to enable any other person to spread fake news using such a bot.Penalties for individuals: A fine of up to S$30,000 or a maximum jail term of three years or both.Penalties for entities: A fine of up to S$500,000.If the actions above are found to be against public interest, a harsher punishment will be meted out.Penalties for individuals: A fine of up to S$60,000 or a maximum jail term of six years or both.Penalties for entities: A fine of up to S$1 million.Providing Services for Communication of False StatementsIt is an offence for an individual — based here or overseas — to solicit, receive or agree to receive any financial or other material benefit as an inducement or reward to knowingly provide a service that is or will be used to communicate one or more false statements.Penalties for individuals: A fine of up to S$30,000 or a maximum jail term of three years or both.Penalties for entities: A fine of up to S$500,000.Not Complying with an Access Blocking OrderUnder this order, the Minister may direct the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to order the Internet service provider to take steps to disable access to an online news source that is spreading fake news.If it does not comply, the service provider can be fined up to S$20,000 for each day of non-compliance. However, it will not incur any criminal or civil liability.Not Complying with a General or Targeted Correction Direction or Remedial OrderThis will affect internet intermediaries such as Facebook and Twitter as well as mainstream media.Those who fail to comply without reasonable excuse can be prosecuted.Penalties for individuals: A fine of up to S$20,000 or a maximum jail term of 12 months or both.Penalties for entities: A fine of up to S$1 million.If there is still non-compliance, there will be an extra fine not exceeding S$100,000 for every day or part of a day during which the offence continues after conviction.Not Complying with the Declaration of Online LocationsIt is an offence if the owner or operator of a declared online location fails to comply with the declaration.Under the proposed laws, the Government has the power to blacklist sites that are found to have repeatedly carried fake news. This could be done through a “declaration of online locations”. Among others, the declaration has to include details such as the universal resource locator (URL) and domain name of the sites, as well as reproduce the relevant orders placed on the sites.Penalties for individuals: A fine of up to S$40,000 or a maximum jail term of three years or both.Penalties for entities: A fine of up to S$500,000.
Published corrections will be the primary response to online falsehoods under the proposed new laws against fake news...
Those accused of spreading fake news have the right to appeal to the High Court, but bear the burden of proving that the statements made are not falsehoods.The appeal, however, can only be made after the individual or organisation has gone to the minister to cancel the order but the minister refused to do so.For criminal sanctions to be imposed, the statement must first be a falsehood.
...if anyone fails to comply with the direction, the Minister may direct the Info-communications Authority of Singapore to order the Internet access service provider to disable access to the online location.The new laws also give the Government powers to blacklist sites that have been found to have repeatedly spread falsehoods, to cut off its ability to profit, without shutting it down.