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Singapore passes controversial anti-fake news law

By Clyde Hughes
Singapore's parliament passed a sweeping anti-fake news law Wednesday that gives government officials wide-ranging powers against alleged bogus news sites and misinformation. Photo by Harish Tyagi/EPA-EFE

May 9 (UPI) -- Singapore's parliament has passed a wide-ranging anti-fake news law that some fear could lead to censorship and abuse of power.

The Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, passed Wednesday, gives government leaders sweeping powers to remove content, block websites and demand changes to content. Violators can be imprisoned for up to 10 years and be fined as much as $735,080.

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The bill needs to be signed by President Halimah Yacob to become law.

Critics said the bill would empower government officials to determine what facts are, which would lead to free-speech violations against their opponents. They argued that private companies and fact-checking websites should determine false stories and educate the public on responsible journalism.

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Supporters said that the law targets factually incorrect statements but does not apply to opinion, criticism, satire or parody.

"Free speech should not be affected by this bill," Singapore law minister K. Shanmugam told parliament. "We are talking here about falsehoods. We are talking about bots, trolls, fake accounts and so on. The working of a democratic society depends on the members of that society being informed and not misinformed."

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Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, called Singapore's new law a threat to press freedom there.

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"This is really moving toward a Big Brother style of control and censorship project," Robertson told the BBC. "It's a direct threat to freedom of expression and is something the entire world should be alarmed about."

Singapore civil rights activist Kirsten Han said that the law could give those opposing the government pause, knowing the law could be used against them.

"What would be the effect on our online space to engage in discourse when the platforms we use are required to serve government notices -- or, to speak even more frankly, government propaganda -- to its users?" Han said.

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