Singapore's "fake news" law continues to pay off for the Singaporean government. It's already been used to target allegations made by political opposition leaders and now it's converted Facebook to an extension of the ruling government.
Alex Tan, the founder of "anti-establishment" news site State Times Review has been irritating the Singapore government for a few years now. Late last year, his site published an article claiming Singapore's prime minister was complicit in laundering Malaysian government funds through Singapore's banks.
This resulted in the Monetary Authority of Singapore filing a criminal complaint against Tan for "impugning its integrity." The Ministry of Law then demanded Facebook remove Tan's posts from its site. None of this worked. Tan, now a resident of Australia, was beyond the reach of the Singaporean government. Facebook refused to comply with the government's request because that was all it was: a request.
Tan's posts and Facebook's refusal to remove them were cited by the government as evidence a "fake news" law was needed.
The Ministry of Law said in a press statement: “Facebook has declined to take down a post that is clearly false, defamatory and attacks Singapore, using falsehoods.”
“This shows why we need legislation to protect us from deliberate online falsehoods.”
It's not often a government is so transparent about its self-interest. The Ministry of Law didn't seem to be suggesting the people needed to be protected from "online falsehoods." It's the government that needs to be "protected" from its mostly-powerless citizens -- or, in this case, a rabble rouser operating outside of its jurisdiction.
The new law gives the Singapore government what it wanted: protection. And Facebook's compliance. Roughly a year after the subject was first broached, Facebook is helping Singapore's government mute the effectiveness of its critics, including Alex Tan.
Facebook said on Saturday it had issued a correction notice on a user’s post at the request of the Singapore government, but called for a measured approach to the implementation of a new “fake news” law in the city-state.
“Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information,” said the notice, which is visible only to Singapore users.
The good news is the post stays live. The bad news is the government can force Facebook to alter users' posts by unilaterally declaring news it doesn't like "false." And if this doesn't seem to be working well enough, the government still has the option to jail people or hit them with fines of up to $1 million.
The thing is the government doesn't have to do this. Obviously, the legislation is bad and will result in censorship. But the government runs its own site for corrections, which should be all it needs to do when faced with reports and criticism it considers to be false. Instead of limiting itself to combating speech it doesn't like with its own speech, it's forcing American companies to act on its behalf and dangling the threat of prison time and fines over the heads of anyone whose criticism it feels is invalid.
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