Fake news laws aren't harmless. They don't protect the public. They're useless. And they lend themselves to censorship. Given these factors, it's tough to believe any of the proponents of fake news laws are proceeding in good faith but blinded by good intentions and fuzzy logic.
Anywhere they've been put in place, they've lead directly to governments taking action against political opponents, dissidents, and activists. Excuses are made about national security and protecting the public, but in the end, it's the public that ends up short on protection.
Singapore's new fake news bill is no exception. Legislators began pushing this bill last year, using their own fake news to claim the proposal had widespread support from the country's residents. The committee behind the legislation heavily editorialized the feedback it received at a public hearing, presenting a vocal opponent's comments as being supportive of instituting a fake news law.
Roughly a year later, the bill has materialized, according to the New York Times.
Singapore introduced draft legislation on Monday that it said would combat false or misleading information on the internet, but critics said the measure could be used as a cudgel against the government’s critics.
The legislation, called the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, would require websites to run corrections alongside “online falsehoods” and would “cut off profits” of sites that spread misinformation, among other measures, according to the Ministry of Law.
The bill is widely expected to become law in the coming weeks because it has support from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s People’s Action Party, which has a supermajority in Parliament
The bill can't define "fake news" with any particularity. This all but ensures the law, if it passes, will be abused frequently. What's being called fake news is anything that "reduces public confidence" or "incites hatred or ill will" between groups of people. So, yeah, this would cover a lot of what's posted to social media, especially the "inciting ill will" part.
Supposedly, this new law won't target criticism, satire, or parody. But that's been said about similar laws, which have gone on to target criticism, satire, and parody. The government will decide what is or isn't "truth" and enforce accordingly.
According to a draft of the bill, punishments for some violations could include fines of up to about $44,000 and a prison term of up to six years for individuals, or fines of up to about $738,000 in “any other case.”
This will be a welcome addition to the censorial toolkit Singapore's government can wield against critics and opponents. As the New York Times article notes, Singapore bears a passing resemblance to a democracy thanks to its election process, but there has never been a change in power as a result of this process. The government already uses the country's criminal defamation law to muffle criticism. This law won't improve the current state of speech in Singapore. It will only make it worse.
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