The information age brought on by the advent of the internet has given way to a landscape of misinformation — there exists a legion of agenda-driven websites that seek to mislead readers with falsehoods.
With Facebook and Google becoming the de facto source for people to get their news, their role in spreading fake news stories and alternative facts is undeniable. The less truthful the story is, the more it’s shared — and it does have real-life consequences.
Though the blight of fake news stories has taken a chokehold overseas (via alt-right groups and professional trolls), the Singapore government believes that it’s a major issue here as well. Major enough for them to seriously consider amending Singapore’s laws to deal with the issue.
“Under our current law, there are limited remedies to deal with these falsehoods,” said Minister of Law K Shanmugam in a Parliamentary speech yesterday.
“For example, it is an offence under the Telecommunications Act to transmit messages knowing it is false. But these remedies are ineffective. They were really looking at a time before this new age. The circulation of falsehoods can grow viral today very quickly, and so we need to do more.”
The minister acknowledged that fake news in Singapore has yet to reach a level where it would directly influence domestic political and international affairs, but remained concerned that falsehoods can cause real harm.
He highlighted three websites guilty of spreading around fabrications:
- The Real Singapore: Generators of fake news for profit. Falsehoods include the Thaipusam altercation being sparked off by a complaint from a Filipino family.
- States Times Review: Generator of “completely false news” from outside Singapore. One story claimed that there was near-zero turnout for the late President S R Nathan’s funeral as “an attempt to paint him as an unpopular President”.
- All Singapore Stuff: Generator of viral online hoaxes. Fake news include claiming the rooftop of Punggol Waterway Terraces had collapsed, causing the police and Singapore Civil Defence Force to mobilise to the scene — though nothing happened. They also published a letter alleging that a new Singaporean citizen regrets his citizenship, and posted an unrelated photograph of an innocent Singaporean man. He was subjected to online abuse.
“The Government is seriously considering how to address this fake news issue, the minister concluded. “We will announce our position once we have completed our review.”
States Times Review editor Alex Tan Zhixiang responded with a scathing article against the minister, calling the Singapore government, police and judiciary “corrupted”. Oh, and he even challenged to take on the Law Minister in a single-member constituency in the 2020 election.
“What laws are you reviewing? You are simply writing laws to suit your political agenda you bloody dictator. In all honesty, you yourself probably know you are just another corrupted politician in history,” wrote Tan.
“STR is only successful because your government is a corrupted regime, notwithstanding your state-controlled media Straits Times is a propaganda mule.”