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Singapore launches “fake news” law, says it won’t affect free speech

To get this out of the way, fake news does exist, but with the United State’s freedom of speech, it’s hard to crack down on it without seeming like stifling opinions or speech. In other countries, however, they aren’t so lucky to have such powerful freedom of speech. Singapore has put into motion their law which makes spreading fake news illegal with a hefty fine or a jail sentence to boot depending on if you’re a corperation or an individual. If you’re a corperation you could be fined as much as 1M or if you’re an individual sentenced to 10 years, according to Straits Times.

The controversial bill, which is called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, was passed back in May and was to take effect in October 2. The bill, while seemingly meaning well, was made in such a way that proponents of the bill have a valid reason to distrust it.

Singapore has not been one to value press freedom, this is indicated in 2019’s World Press Freedom Index. The index takes into account 180 countries where Singapore lands itself on the 151 spot. To put this in perspective, it’s at a lower rating than countries like Myanmar and Russia which has routinely suppressed opposing views. This also appears to extend to private SMS or MMS and platforms like Whatsapp.

The only thing that stands in the way of a person being fined or thrown in jail are the ministers not seeing it worth the effort. This could possibly sway the elections which are set to begin March 2020.

‘It doesn’t deal with opinions’

Law Minister K. Shanmugam attempted to alleviate fears by claiming it wouldn’t hinder free speech, according to Reuters.

“This legislation deals with false statements of facts. It doesn’t deal with opinions, it doesn’t deal with viewpoints. You can have whatever viewpoints however reasonable or unreasonable.”

“As the most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date, this level of overreach poses significant risks to freedom of expression and speech, and could have severe ramifications both in Singapore and around the world.” This was said by Asia Internet Coalition’s managing director Jeff Paine.

Facebook’s Simon Milner, who works on the privacy policy in Asia, opened up about the concerns behind the bill, citing the broadness that the government would be receiving. He said he was “concerned with aspects of the law that grant broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and proactively push a government notification to users”.

The three main tech giants, Google, Facebook, and Twitter all have their Asia headquarters in Singapore.

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