Minister of Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam is on the warpath against so-called fake news in Singapore (especially targeting the sociopolitical news aggregators), and he’s telling Singaporeans to expect new laws against them to be introduced next year.
The minister highlighted the importance about taking action against misinformation — adding evidence from a government survey that an overwhelming majority of Singaporeans (91 percent) are supportive of stronger laws to “ensure the removal and correction of fake news”.
TODAY reports that the government will be consulting stakeholders later this year on legislation to counter fake news, an update provided by Shanmugam in his keynote speech at the “Keep It Real: Trust and Trust in the Media” conference this morning.
“If the distrust becomes deep-rooted, people will have serious doubts about the institutions, about leadership, about governance,” he noted, adding that Singapore is vulnerable to foreign influences that harness fake news for their own agendas.
“In this so-called ‘post-truth’ world, even flimsy and ludicrous misinformation can sow doubt,” he said.
Citing examples of other governments in Germany, United Kingdom and Israel who’ve started to clamp down on fake news, Shanmugam suggests that our own laws could involve working with online platforms to dispel falsehoods, and take action against purveyors of misinformation.
Back in April, he pinpointed the likes of The Real Singapore, States Times Review and All Singapore Stuff as generators of fake news. Meanwhile, a poll of 1,000 Singaporeans conducted by Blackbox Research revealed that they believe the likes of The Middle Ground, The Online Citizen and Mothership to be guilty of publishing fake or misleading news.
But what is the government’s definition of “fake news”?
It’s great that the authorities are taking steps to combat misinformation, but what’s unclear is the government’s definition of what constitutes “fake news” — and how far they’ll go to crack down on publications they deem to be untrustworthy.
When the legislation against so called fake news is taken to the extreme, it might be turned into another way to silence free and independent press, whose factual reporting of news can be twisted and interpreted as falsehoods.
Take the current US administration for example. The White House’s decision to block news outlets such as CNN, BBC, Buzzfeed and more from briefings (apparently justified over allegations of spreading “phony” news) is regarded as President Trump’s attempt to shut down his critics.
This situation brings up the question: Who will watch the watchmen?