There are a few things that are certain in Singapore this year: bubble tea’s going to more popular than kopi-c, influencers are going to post more images of their travel overseas and the law to fight fake news in Singapore would be tabled.
If you think fake news isn’t harmful, think again: people have died due to fake news circulating online. If you’ve a Netflix account, you might want to watch the seventh season of Homeland, whereby you’ll see first-hand on the repercussions of fake news and how it’s created, and amplified, by malicious actors.
So it’s no surprise that Singapore, just like other countries, have decided to create laws for this new threat.
But what is it, and how does it affect us common Singaporeans?
Would sharing an article that you think is real, but is fake, considered spreading fake news?
And what defines fake news?
Let’s find out.
First Thing First: What is Fake News?
Very often, if you go online, you’ll see that people tend to term something that they don’t agree with as “fake news”. Nothing could be further than the truth.
Fake news are deliberate online falsehoods: to put it simply, facts that aren’t true and are deliberately spread.
A good example would be this: Apple lives in Blk 123, but in an article, you wrote that Apple lives in Blk 456 because you don’t want people to look for Apple.
This is a very mild example and won’t be included in the fake new laws. Read on and you’ll understand.
Okay, So Fake News Are Fake Facts…So When Would it Be Serious Enough for the Law to Kick In?
So, you’ve written about Apple but since it has no serious repercussions on society, the law won’t affect you…though Apple can sue you for defamation (but that’s for another story).
In order for the law to affect you, you’d have to create / share a fake news (known also as false statement of fact) that must be in the public interest.
So what’s public interest?
This is very “context-specific”, but mainly, it’s something that has consequences on public health or finances, or public safety or tranquility, or something that has consequences on the outcome of an election or referendum. Another public interest issue is that it could incite enmity, hatred or ill-will between different groups or undermine the confidence in public institutions.
Just remember: don’t anyhowly spread fake news, and if you think whatever you post would have repercussions on society, hold that click / tap. Your moment of fame isn’t worth it.
So if Fake News is Confirmed, What Can The Authorities Do?
So, you’ve created a fake news that affects society. Don’t worry, a SWAT team wouldn’t kick open your door and seize your phone.
Instead, a “competent authority” would be instructed, and one of these would happen:
- A correction to be made alongside the post / article
- Post / article to be taken down (more serious case)
You’ll have to comply, of course.
What if You Accidentally Share a Fake News?
If you’re innocently sharing a fake news (e.g. an article by a dubious website), and for some reason your post got viral, don’t worry: you won’t be criminally liable.
Instead, you’ll either have to do a correction or remove your content.
If you have intentions to purposely spread fake news, then that’s when you become a “malicious actor”: and that’s when you’ll be criminally liable.
Criminal Sanctions for the Bill
If you knowingly spread fake news to undermine society, then you’ll be charged: you can be fined up to $50,000 and/or jail up to five years if found guilty.
Now, if you go one level up and use bots to amplify the spread of fake news (in the TV show mentioned above, they used all sort of things including bots), you could be fined up to $100,000 and/or jailed up to 10 years.
So if you intend to spread fake news for some reason deliberately, be warned: Ah Gong’s looking.
How about that $1 million fine you’ve been reading about?
Well, don’t worry, that most likely won’t affect you unless you’re the owner of Facebook or Twitter.
Internet Platforms Affected
Let’s face it: without Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp, fake news wouldn’t have a place in our society.
Therefore, platforms like Facebook are required to act fast by displaying corrections alongside the post or removing them altogether. If they don’t comply, they could face fines up to $1 million.
In other words, Facebook’s going to be a tad bit different in Singapore in the near future if they were to follow this law.
Internet Platforms’ Responses
So what are the platforms’ responses?
Facebook, who has crossed swords with many governments in the world, said through their vice-president of Public Policy in an email that they were “concerned” and that it allegedly “grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a government notification to others.”
He added, “Giving people a place to express themselves freely and safely is important to us and we have a responsibility to handle any government request to remove alleged misinformation carefully and thoughtfully.”
Twitter is still reviewing the law while Google, who also owns YouTube, is studying the Bill, too.
How About Online Websites?
For online websites that spread fake news (now, remember: fake news is deliberate false facts that affects society), their digital ad revenue would be cut off if they have published three fake news in six months that require a correction or take-down.
The website will, however, not be shut down or charged, but a “declaration regime” would be issued to the site. Digital ad operators (like Google lah, Outbrain lah, Facebook lah) would have to shut off its ads in Singapore on the site so that site owner won’t earn any revenue.
Just so you know, Google (which operates Adsense, an ad network) itself is also stopping ads on any sites that are deemed to peddle fake news, but that’s on an international level.
In other words, if your intention is to make money off fake news, then sorry: go look for a decent job instead. How about selling Japanese ramen?
Opinion, Criticism, Satire or Parody Aren’t Considered Fake News
By now, you should know what fake news is. If not, this would make it even clearer.
Opinions, criticisms, satires or parodies aren’t considered fake news. We’re going to use an example that doesn’t affect society so it’ll reflect the point better:
10 Facts About Goody Feed
10 Thoughts I Have About Goody Feed
10 Reasons Why I Think Goody Feed is Trashy
Goody Feed’s So Clickbait, A Fishing Company Decides to Learn How to Bait From Them
(And the article must clearly state that it’s satire)
You should have seen enough parodies online, no?
You can see that they are all not a deliberate effort to spread false information, so don’t worry: go ahead and give your opinions.
What’s Going to Happen Next?
In the coming months, the Bill would be debated in Parliament. In the meantime, just remember this: don’t anyhowly spread fake news. And tell your parents or grandparents about this, because they are most likely the ones who like to forward fake news via WhatsApp.
And if you’re still confused, you might want to watch this:
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