Singapore and Facebook: The one-sided battle over ‘Fake News’ label

A new law requiring Facebook to add qualifier to news post on its feed sparks up debate

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Facebook announced this update last week, where it said that it would comply with a Singapore directive dubbed 'the fake news law'.

Governments don’t respond particularly well to receiving criticism. It can invalidate their reasoning or justification for the passing of certain laws or the appointment of certain individuals to key positions. It can also hinder their efforts in getting re-elected. This applies in more potent and extreme ways in countries where governments are either outright authoritarian or authoritarian-adjacent.

There are numerous ways a government can stifle dissenting pieces in the press. The most drastic one being the imprisonment of members of the press, literally preventing them from being able to do their job. However, this can have adverse effects on a government wishing to maintain a semblance of upholding democratic standards and claiming that personal and professional freedoms still exist under their administration. We have seen how the world, as well as part of the local electorate, has reacted to Turkey jailing journalists and other people related to publications not wishing to be censored.

“Imagine if a government had the ability to label any dissenting piece of journalism as ‘inaccurate’, ‘misleading’, or simply as ‘fake news’.”

Now imagine if a government had the ability to label any dissenting piece of journalism as ‘inaccurate’, ‘misleading’, or simply as ‘fake news’. This is exactly the power the Singapore government now wields with any article or post shared on Facebook displayed to domestic users (this does not apply to the same posts viewed by external users). It can unilaterally label the post as ‘fake news’ or ‘contains inaccuracies’ or ‘is misleading’. It’s an extremely cynical and sinister move.

Facebook announced this update last week, where it said that it would comply with a Singapore directive dubbed ‘the fake news law’. After the compliance was announced, the social media network added the following disclaimer under an article shared by the third-party publishing company State Times Review: “(Facebook) is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information”.

“Facebook, despite its limp protestations and ineffective, passive-aggressive tone, will ultimately comply with any government when it comes to censorship.”

The wording in that disclaimer alone merits a plethora of reactions alone. It almost resembles an excerpt from a fictional book satirizing a dictatorial regime or a parody piece on the state of journalism in the digital age. Beyond that, however, it mostly serves as a reminder that Facebook, despite its limp protestations and ineffective, passive-aggressive tone, will ultimately comply with any government when it comes to censorship. Particularly one with strong and comprehensive relations with China, a country Facebook has had a long and complicated relationship with.

“The ‘fake news law’ stems from Singapore’s POFMA initiative: the ‘Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act’.”

The ‘fake news law’ stems from Singapore’s POFMA initiative: the ‘Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act’. This allows government officials to fight criticism by dubbing posts as ‘fake news’ through the enforcement of mandatory disclaimers. Though this can be appealed in court by a publication wishing to not comply, they still have to add the disclaimer immediately and must not remove it before the case is heard. If publications don’t comply they can be fined up to one million Singaporean dollars and an additional 100,000 dollars for every additional day of non-compliance.

 

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