‘No need for legislation’ – Singaporean groups protest against possible law on fake news

Various groups in Singapore have launched a fight against potential legislation intended to curb the spread of fake news on social media.

Following the news of the launch of a Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, several prominent community groups and public figures have issued open statements arguing against the need for a law against fake news.

Among them include journalist and activist Kirsten Han, who, writing in The Washington Post, said: “Disinformation is an issue worth tackling. But responses need to be carefully balanced against curbs on freedom of expression, and cannot be undertaken with haste. Singaporeans don’t need more laws to tell us what we can or cannot say; what we need are genuine engagement and openness, so we can be better equipped to come to our own conclusions.’

Others include New York-based group Singapore Unbound, former Straits Times editor and media commentator Cherian George and the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE).

Their formal responses to the Home Affairs and Laws’ proposals have been collated by Han and published as follows:

Singapore Unbound: “The meaning of individual facts is always, and already, embedded in narratives. As such, Singaporeans should be exposed to all competing narratives and be trained to discern between them. This training is best conducted in schools through the study of literature and history. To revitalize the study of the humanities prepares all Singaporeans to respond with discernment to “deliberate online falsehoods.”

Cherian George, professor of Media Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University: “We would be better off strengthening the public’s capacity to deal with disinformation. Reliable, public-interest media remain the best antidote to deliberate falsehoods. Behavioural scientists also recommend inoculating people against untruths by making them more savvy about disinformation methods. Quality media and a forewarned public have been cited as key reasons why Russian disinformation was much less effective in last year’s German elections than anticipated.”

AWARE: “While there is reasonable concern about how social media may shape media consumption, we argue for upstream education instead of downstream censorship wherever possible.”

Independent newspaper The Online Citizen has also thrown its hat in the ring with the following video submission:

In total, the Select Committee has received a total of 162 written submissions, the chairman of the committee Charles Chong confirmed yesterday. Not all of these have been made public.

According to the proposal submitted to form the committee in January, “online falsehoods pose real and serious challenges”.

The document read: “The incidents around the world demonstrate the serious nature of the issues. Singapore should not wait for an incident to occur. We have to learn from the experiences of other countries what the risks are, and what can be done about them. We should be prepared ahead of time.

“There needs to be a wide-ranging conversation about our response to these challenges as a country and a society.”

The committee hearings will be held throughout the month from March 14. The ministry has been contacted for further comment.


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