The debate over whether free speech on social media should be regulated continues to rage.
Donald Trump, the man who loves nothing more than to shout “Fake News!” every five seconds, but spreads misinformation himself every ten seconds, was recently banned from all his social media accounts.
Many believe Trump’s insistence that the presidential election was rigged, along with conspiracy theorists spouting the same claims on social media, led to the violent riot on Capitol Hill, a meeting place of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C.
The riot has also shown us who is really in power these days – the tech giants.
So, can we rely on these tech giants to fight fake news on its platform?
Not at all, says one minister.
Law Minister Says Social Media Firms Put Profits Over Principle on Fake News
Law Minister K. Shanmugam believes that social media firms cannot effectively combat fake news because they’re driven by their financial motives.
He noted how some lawmakers in the US have slammed social media companies for allowing misinformation to spread, which many believe led to the assault on Capitol Hill, where at least five people have died.
“The tendency has been on the side of the Internet platforms to say, ‘Hey, it’s free speech, there shouldn’t be any regulation of it’,” Mr Shanmugam said.
“Let’s be frank, when social media platforms argue against it (regulation), it’s really putting profit above principle.”
Speaking in an interview with Reuters last Thursday, Mr Shanmugam defended Singapore’s fake news law against concerns it was a censorship tool.
Introduced in 2019, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act allows government ministers to order news outlets, social media users or platforms, to include warnings that their posts contain false statements.
Those who don’t comply may face fines and even jailtime.
Last year, when Facebook was instructed to block access to a certain page, they contradicted the Government’s claim that the law was not a “censorship tool” and joined rights groups who argued it could stifle free speech in Singapore.
Mr Shanmugam’s point is that these companies may purport to be defenders of free speech, but what they really want is more posts and more users, because that means more money.
Law Used Against Several Critics & Opposition Parties During Election
The government says the law is only used to combat falsehoods, and will not affect legitimate criticism or free speech.
But they drew criticism last year during the general election when the law was invoked against several government critics and opposition parties and politicians, as some believed it was politically-motivated.
The move drew concern and criticism from some rights groups, including Amnesty International.
When asked about those who broke the fake news law, the Home Affairs Minister said: “The fact that a number of them happen to be opposition politicians, suggests to you as to who then engages in such conduct”.
A Right to Remove Content
When it comes to social media firms, however, many forget that these companies don’t have any obligation to keep content up on its platforms.
Trump supporters condemned his removal from Twitter as a violation of free speech, but they’re forgetting one simple fact: if Trump has a right to spout nonsense, then Twitter, and other social media firms, have the same right to remove that content.
Whether or not we can trust social media firms to effectively combat fake news is unclear at the moment.
What is apparent, is that if fake news is left unchecked, it could lead to mayhem in the streets.
Featured Image: YouTube (Gov.sg)