Singapore eyes ‘fake news’ laws

SINGAPORE -- Tech giants have reacted with horror after Singapore proposed laws against “fake news” allowing authorities to order the removal of content and impose hefty fines, in what critics say is an assault on free speech.

The government unveiled a bill last week containing tough measures, including powers for ministers to order social media sites like Facebook to put warnings next to posts authorities believe to be false and in extreme cases take them down.

If an action is deemed malicious and damaging to Singapore’s interests, companies could be hit with fines of up to Sg$1 million ($740,000). Individuals could face jail terms of up to 10 years.

Authorities in the tightly-controlled country -- long criticized for restricting civil liberties -- insist the measures are necessary to stop the circulation of falsehoods which could sow divisions in the multi-ethnic city-state.

But press freedom groups condemned the proposals, saying they could stifle online discussion, as did tech companies which have big investments in the ultra-modern city.

“As the most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date, this level of overreach poses significant risks to freedom of expression and speech,” said the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association whose members include Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Simon Milner, Facebook’s vice president of public policy in Asia-Pacific, said the social media giant was concerned about potentially being compelled to remove content.

“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,” he saidt.

The internet is a relatively free space in Singapore and there are some local alternative news sites, which are typically more critical of the authorities than the traditional, pro-government newspapers and TV.