Singaporean ministers can decide what is fake news

Feb 06, 2020

AS SINGAPORE GRAPPLES with the first cases of local transmission of the Wuhan virus, its government is also worried about another form of contagion: fake news. The two are not unrelated. In late January a Singaporean website claimed that someone in the city-state had died of the virus, when no one has to date. And two Facebook posts claimed, wrongly, that a train station had been closed and cleaned because an infected person had been there.

With an evolving epidemic, false rumours can lead to panic. Cue the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, or POFMA, which came into force four months ago. A new virus was not what the government had in mind when it framed the legislation, but rather the danger in a multiracial, multireligious society of incitement to hatred or violence based on false rumours. Online lies risked undermining faith in government itself. Such falsehoods were, the government claimed, being weaponised “to attack the infrastructure of fact, destroy trust and attack societies”.

All democracies are grappling with the challenges of fake news. POFMA is the most sweeping response to date. It outlaws any false statement deemed “prejudicial” to public health, security or Singapore’s foreign relations, or which may “diminish” public confidence in government. It gives what Cherian George of Hong...


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