Law Minister K Shanmugam continues to spread the good government word on Singapore’s so-called fake news law, this time roping in a popular influencer to discuss how it absolutely certainly does not curtail freedom of speech or democracy.
The minister sat down with Nas Daily’s Nuseir Yassin to record a podcast episode aired yesterday in which he says that the best method of “fixing fake news” is to label posts containing misinformation rather than going after the source, despite dozens of government orders that have done just that.
“Our answer is … it’s not going to be possible to shut fake news off because it’s so widespread. But what you can do is to attach a health label to it, so that when somebody else reads it, the fake news comes with a health warning, saying this is not true and for the truth go to such and such website,” the minister says in the 35-minute episode.
He went on to liken Singapore’s approach to Twitter’s policy of flagging false COVID-19 information.
“The way to protect democracy and to deal with fake news is to give more news, more [information] and not to censor as far as possible,” he added.
It’s mostly been government critics targeted by nearly 30 orders to remove published statements and run dictated “corrections” since the law came into effect late last year. They have included Facebook page National Times Singapore and New Naratif founder Thum Ping Tjin, who were ordered to correct posts suggesting the law effectively barred all government criticism. In July, The Online Citizen Asia was forced to change a post insinuating that the government planned to increase the population to 10 million.
Shanmugan found a gleeful groupie in Nuseir, who dubbed the minister the “architect of fake news solutions” and declared his personal support for the law.
“All you’re being asked to do is to be responsible and present the other side of the story. What’s wrong with that? How is your freedom affected?” the vlogger said. “I’m saying that people always try to juxtapose a strong argument about censorship and freedom but there’s nothing to do with your freedom.”
It was one of the many public appearances by the law minister and de facto poster boy of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, or POFMA, to preach the law’s virtues since it was passed in May 2019.
During the casual chat, Shanmugam said the law only applies to matters that may affect the “public interest.” Depending on the severity of the offense, publishers are forced to delete content and publish “clarifications” that must be readable by all.
“If I assess that public interest has been seriously damaged, I may require you to do something that requires the clarification to go to everyone,” he said.
I know Fake News is a big problem.
So you should hear this episode on Nas Talks on Spotify.
I talked with Singapore’s…
As in the cases cited above, the law’s been used to force pages to bear scarlet letters by advertising their role in “communicating falsehoods” and abstain from commercial activity.
Those who refuse to cooperate with the authority’s instructions will be considered an offense and he will get charged in court, says Shanmugam. Brands, companies and individuals who breach POFMA could face a fine of up to a million dollars and 10 years in prison.
Yassin’s podcast launched in July with guests such as Filipino-American vlogger Wil Dasovich and Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. He is known for posting travel videos to a channel followed by close to two million on YouTube.
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