Shanmugam Said Singapore May Consider A Law To Fight Against Cancel Culture

Cancel Culture has been around for quite some time, though it gained prominence on social media after the #MeToo movement blew up in late 2017.

The term “cancel culture” can generally be defined as the phenomenon of people using online tools such as petitions, hashtags, or a deluge of social media posts to undermine or harm the reputation of individuals and organisations, who are often seen as influential and powerful.

For Singapore, cancel culture mostly exists on the internet, but with the recent announcement of the impending repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code—a law that criminalises sexual intercourse between two men—it has come to the forefront of society’s attention.

You can watch this video to know more about the repeal:

The Issue With Cancel Culture

In an interview with Bloomberg, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam points out that the main problem with the cancel culture is that it curtails people’s freedom to express their views.

While Singapore has laws that prevent physical violence from being enacted against an individual for airing their opinions, the Home Affairs Minister notes that people do get “ganged up” upon online and get figuratively beaten down.

“We should be encouraging people to be able to express their viewpoints on all sides as long as it’s not an offence,” he said, adding that there is a line between opinion and hate speech, and that people should not be attacked for simply saying what they believe.

When asked about whether Singapore would consider passing a law that fights against cancel culture, Shanmugam stated that the government has been looking into the issue for a while now.

If they arrive at the right solutions, then yes, there is a possibility that such a law will be seen in the legislation in the near future.

Topics of Debate

Besides the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and the legalising of gay marriage, there are other topics of debate with Singapore society.

Shanmugam states that the government will adhere to what the current societal position is.

On the definition of marriage, it is between a man and a woman.

This will likely be enshrined in the current constitution sometime soon, alongside the repealing of Section 377A.

The Home Affairs Minister said that these moves are an attempt to forge “as much of a consensus as possible” and promote social harmony on an issue that has torn apart the social fabric of many countries due to the ensuing culture wars.

On the death penalty, he claims that majority of Singapore citizens understand the severity and harms of drug trafficking and support the death penalty.

He also points out that legalising drugs like marijuana will only make it “more challenging” to deal with it.

Therefore, it is unlikely for the Singapore government to ever budge on this issue.

Feasibility of The Law

Presently, there are no laws protecting people from the cancel culture…technically.

The closest thing we have is the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), which can convict any person who uses any threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behaviour with the intent to cause harassment, alarm, or distress to another person.

Offenders are liable to a jail term of up to six months, or a maximum fine of $5,000.

A person who has faced an online barrage of harassment can potentially seek legal action under POHA.

Of course, the litigant will need to prove that it was a false statement that led to reputational damages and losses were suffered.

There is also the 1990 Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act which encourages tolerance among religious groups and ensures that religion and politics are kept separate.

It should be noted that these laws are usually reactive in nature.

While the cancel culture is mostly seen as toxic, there is some inherent goodness in the phenomenon in the sense that it empowers the minority and calls for accountability from the influential and powerful.

However, when the people start crossing the line into harassing, defaming, or doxxing, actions need to be taken.

But before any laws can be drafted, it is important to ask what kind of behaviour the legislation aims to prevent, or what kind of behaviour needs to be regulated.

Just plain criticism or a loss in a public debate does not count as cancellation after all. 

There are often many people involved in the “cancelling” too, which is problematic—do you penalise the person who started it, or everyone who participated? What constitutes as participation then?

It is difficult to draw the line between opinion and hate speech because views are subjective and dependent on the context. People have different levels of sensibilities. Determining the nature of one’s words is also a painful and arduous process.

Additionally, others may see a law fighting against cancel culture as a restriction and infringement on their freedom of speech, which is a whole other can of worms better left untouched.

Last but not the least, what sort of consequence should there be to deter said behaviour in the future?

Singapore may consider a law that inhibits cancel culture, but it will have a lot of considerations to make first.

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Featured Image: Facebook (K Shanmugam Sc)