S’pore Government Responds To Concerns On ‘Fake News Law’

We all know a friend or family member that likes to share funny news on our personal chats.

But with the fake news law, many are afraid of sharing anything that the government deems as fake news.

To clarify this, government officials have stepped up to clarify concerns that the opposition and you have about the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).

Here are 8 worries that you may have and what the government has clarified.

1. Fake news law restricts free speech?

A large number of us worry about how this bill seeming restricts what we say.

Does that mean that we are also liable to $20,000 fines and 12 months’ jail?

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Here’s what the government has clarified.

In the parliament on Tuesday (7 May), Minister of Home Affairs Mr Shanmugam addressed this issue.

He quoted NUS law professor Ms Thio Li-Ann, quipping,

Not all forms of speech are worthy of equal protection.

Elaborating that there’s no “human right” to “disseminate information that is not true”, Mr Shanmugam attributes the notion to UK House of Lords.

Essentially, this means he believes falsehoods aren’t a part of free speech and therefore don’t need to be protected.

2. Will I get charged for criticising the government?

Another question we might have is what if we post or share something that is against the government? Will we be charged?

Based on what Mr Shanmugam has said, you can only be charged if 2 conditions are met:

  1. Posting with malicious intent against the public interest
  2. Posting fake information

This means that you can say,

This ruling party is bad. (Opinion)

But you can’t say,

This ruling party is bad because they force people to vote for them. (Fake News)

In the first option, your comments may have malicious intent against public interest. However, you are not accusing a government official of anything. So you won’t be held liable under this law.

3. Will get I get charged for making fun of the authorities?

Another layer prevents the government from abusing its power — the law does not cover opinion, criticism, satire, and parody.

Meaning that you can still joke about the government’s policies. Including POFMA itself.


The hardest decisions require the strongest wills
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In this case, the picture is an opinion of what may happen, a criticism of the law, a satire, and a parody of the whole situation. So go ahead and laugh away.

4. Will it be difficult to challenge ministers’ decisions?

What if you post something and a minister tells you to take it down. But you – in your opinion – have not written anything that’s fake.

You can actually appeal to courts. The problem comes when you realise how expensive normal cases are and how long it takes to process.

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Here is what Mr Shanmugam replied.

Incidents like this can be “heard in the high court as early as 9 days” after he sends the first appeal to the minister.

Court fees for the first 3 days will also be waived. The court will get to decide if the remaining day’s fees will be similarly waived, depending on the situation.

Ultimately, you can theoretically challenge the minister that uses the law against you quickly and cheaply.

5. Ministers shouldn’t decide what is fake news

Some of you may be wondering why ministers will be allowed so much “power” to decide what’s real and what’s not?

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On Tuesday (7 May), leader of Workers Party Mr Pritam Singh said that duty judges – representing courts – should be the ones dealing with urgent cases.

A PAP member, Mr Christopher de Souza replied to this.

He believes that judges, though a “tier of review above the minister”, cannot “curb and respond” to fake news spreading “before they can cause harm”.

This means that even though judges are better at deciding what is fake news, ministers are in the best position to stop any fake news before any unrest occurs. The government’s opinion is that it might take too long for a judge to respond.

6. What happens to my uncle who keeps sharing fake news on WhatsApp?

Another issue that many people have with the bill is that it will also apply to closed platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram.

If you are wondering if you can be charged for sharing fake news, don’t worry, you can’t.

Short answer, wrong.
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Mr Shanmugam has shared that “Sharing, liking, forwarding all that, no problem.” as long as a correction is made by the social media platform.

This means as long as you didn’t create it, you won’t be charged for sharing fake news in your personal chats.

7. Can I get charged for spreading fake news in personal chats?

So if you can’t get charged for sharing, what if you messaged your friend fake news.

Take for example, a text that goes something like this,

The ruling party is bad because they force people to vote for them.

This qualifies as fake news. However, you posted it in a personal chat to another person, does that mean you can be charged?

The answer is yes and no.

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You won’t be charged for saying it as it hasn’t qualified as damaging public interest as it is only 2 people discussing.

However, if your friend decides to take what you say and post it on Facebook for the whole world to see, you might see yourself receiving a take-down or clarification notice.

8. Doxxing is now illegal under POHA

Along with POFMA, there is one lesser talked about legislation being updated – the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).

Adjust your seats as this may be the one that affects you most.

A new offence of “doxxing” will be added to the legislation. What this means is you can no longer publish information about another to harass or encourage harassment.

The most recent example would be the Monica Baey case as she exposed her perpertrator’s identity on Instagram without censoring his private information. Hence, she could have been charged under the new update of POHA.

So before you complain about anyone in the future, you’ll probably need to do some edits. On the flip side, if you were a victim of doxxing, you can easily hold the person liable.

Laws shouldn’t be used indiscriminately

To be fair, this law may not be used as much as you think.

You don’t have to live in fear of POFMA or POHA as there are already other laws like the Internal Security Act (ISA) which doesn’t even give you a chance at going to court.

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But even the ISA, from what we know, has rarely been used since 2000.

Laws like ISA and POFMA do give the government powers. But it’s up to regular citizens to trust their leaders to use those powers fairly.

As Singapore’s citizens are now hyper aware of new developments thanks to the resurgence of new media, indiscriminate usage of these laws will surely galvanise netizens to call for necessary reviews whenever possible.

Do you think POFMA is necessary? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Featured image from YouTube.