In Brief

How Singapore’s ‘fake news’ law works

Controversial bill allows authorities to flag and remove posts said to be false

Singapore has ushered in a new anti-fake news law that critics fear will be used to stifle dissent.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill empowers ministers in the Asian city state to order social media sites to put warnings next to any post that the authorities deems to be false. It also allows the government to order that posts be taken down in extreme cases.

It is now illegal to spread “false statements of fact” in contexts in which the statements are considered “prejudicial” to Singapore’s security, public safety or “public tranquillity”. Statements that are deemed to threaten “friendly relations of Singapore with other countries” are also prohibited.

Individuals found to have violated the new law can face fines and up to ten years in prison, while companies found guilty of spreading “fake news” can face fines of up to S$1m (around £600,000).

Rights groups have repeatedly warned that the bill “could be subject to abuse and may have a stifling effect on free speech”, CNN reports.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), a grouping of prominent judges and lawyers, has also said there is a “real risk that the law will be misused to clamp down on opinions or information critical of the government”.

Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson told CNN that he expects the bill to be used for “political purposes”. 

“The Singapore government has a long history of calling everything they disagree with as false and misleading,” he added.

Echoing those concerns, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia, said: “This is an alarming scenario. While tech firms must take all steps to make digital spaces safe for everyone, this does not provide governments an excuse to interfere with freedom of expression - or rule over the news feed.”

With general elections on the horizon, opposition leaders have also voiced fears that the law could be used to “muzzle dissent”, Bloomberg reports.

Responding to the concerns, the Singapore government has insisted that the bill is about “enabling” free speech rather than “controlling” it.

The most recent world rankings on press freedom by watchdog Reporters Without Borders puts Singapore came 151 out of 180 countries.

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