Facebook rejects criticism over fake news but pledges to ‘work with Singapore Government’

Facebook has rejected criticisms that is has done little to combat the spread of fake news in Asia Pacific after the social media giant was threatened with legislation in a Select Committee report in Singapore.

Facebook, along with Google and Twitter, was singled out in a report which gave 22 recommendations to the Government on how to tackle fake news.

The report from the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods came six months after a public hearing was held to debate the issue.

“Legislation would be needed particularly for measures to be taken in response to an online falsehood, since Facebook, Google and Twitter have a policy of generally not acting against content on the basis that it is false,” the report said.

Facebook welcomed the report and said it was “committed to working with the government”.

But in a tacit rejection of the criticisms, Facebook said it has taken action against fake news.

“We appreciate the Committee’s extensive report, and share the same commitment to reduce the spread of deliberate online falsehoods,” a spokesperson said. “Over the last year and a half, we have invested in technology and people to combat false news and disrupt attempts to manipulate civic discourse.

“This work includes removing fake accounts, disrupting the financial incentives behind false news, reducing the posts people see that link to low-quality web pages, partnering with threat intelligence experts, and promoting digital and news literacy.”

The publisher-cum-technology firm added that additional steps have been taken in the months following the public hearing.

“Since the Singapore Select Committee hearing we have also introduced a new policy that means we will remove false news that has the potential to lead to offline violence and introduced more ads transparency,” the spokesperson said.

“This effort will never be finished and we are committed to working together with the government, industry, news publishers, and our community on this.”

In a diplomatic statement, Twitter said it “appreciates the importance of the Select Committee’s work” and thanked it “for their inclusive engagement”.

“Twitter is committed to keeping people informed about what’s happening in the world,” the company said. “As such we care deeply about the issues of misinformation as well as disinformation, and their potentially harmful effects on the civic and political discourse that is core to our mission.

“There are many complexities at play, and societies across the world have to work in concert to understand and better assess trends in the information ecosystem.

“We look forward to the Singapore Government’s continued engagement with industry on the full range of approaches to address these issues.”

The Select Committee’s 22 recommendations, which were agreed in principle by the Government, did not detail the measures that should be taken, or suggest specific laws.

Among the broad proposals was a need to educate the public, improve fact checking and generally disrupt the spread of online falsehoods.

It is understood powers could extend to taking down content and blocking access.

Laws could even extend to cutting off digital advertising revenue to individuals or organisations who are deemed to be spreading fake news. In serious cases, criminal action could follow.


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