Singapore’s Fake News Law Shows How Not to Address Disinformation Online

Singapore’s Fake News Law Shows How Not to Address Disinformation Online
A person reads a news report about Facebook on their mobile phone, Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 20, 2018 (AP photo).

When Singapore’s government enacted a law aimed at cracking down on fake news last fall, activists, academics and free speech advocates warned that it was a pretext by the ruling People’s Action Party to censor voices critical of the government. The Protection of Online Falsehoods and Manipulation law, or POFMA, allows the government to force social media platforms and users to issue corrections or remove any offending posts. Failure to comply can result in steep fines or even a jail sentence

Since it was passed, the law has been invoked several times against opposition figures and media outlets critical of the government, and last week, the government even ordered Facebook to block access to the page of an alternative news site. The government, for its part, says the law is a necessary and practical measure to curb the spread of disinformation and hate speech online. Those are pressing problems to be sure, but is this law the best way to address them? And if not, what is?

For this week’s interview on Trend Lines, WPR’s Elliot Waldman digs into these questions with Cherian George, a Singaporean academic who specializes in issues of media freedom, censorship and hate speech. George is a professor of media studies at Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Communication, where he also serves as associate dean for research.

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Relevant Articles on WPR:
Southeast Asia’s Troubling New Fight Against ‘Fake News’
Ahead of Major Elections, Asian Democracies Grapple With a Torrent of Fake News
The EU Considers a New Approach to Confront Disinformation Online
Can a Divided World Cope With the Risks of the Digital Revolution?

Trend Lines is produced and edited by Peter Dörrie, a freelance journalist and analyst focusing on security and resource politics in Africa. You can follow him on Twitter at @peterdoerrie.

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