Singapore has passed a controversial anti-fake news law that gives authorities sweeping powers to police online platforms and even private chat groups.

The government can now order platforms to remove what it deems to be false statements that are “against the public interest”, and to post corrections.

Authorities say the bill protects citizens from fake news.

But critics say it poses a serious threat to civil liberties.

It is also unclear how it could be enforced in some instances, such as policing content in encrypted apps.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill was passed by lawmakers on Wednesday and will come into force in the next few weeks.

The government has emphasised that the law would not be used to target opinions, but only falsehoods that could prove damaging.

“Free speech should not be affected by this bill,” Law Minister K Shanmugam told parliament, adding that the law is aimed at tackling “falsehoods, bots, trolls, and fake accounts”.

What does the law cover?

It bans the spread of what the government decides are false statements against the public interest. A person found guilty of doing this in Singapore could be fined heavily and/or jailed for up to five years.

It also bans the use of fake accounts or bots to spread fake news – this carries penalties of up to $1 million (Sh100 million) and a jail term of up to 10 years.

The law can be applied across a broad range of platforms, from social media to news websites, which also face penalties if they do not comply with orders to take down content or post corrections.

Could the bill police private chats?

Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects is that it could be applied to closed private platforms such as chat groups and social media groups, including apps with end-to-end encryption, where only recipients and senders can see messages.

This would mean apps like WhatsApp, which is extremely popular in Singapore, and Telegram would be affected.

On Tuesday, a minister said in parliament that the private nature of such apps meant they were “ideal platforms” for the spread of falsehoods as they could be hidden from public view, and noted that they could reach “hundreds or thousands of strangers at a time”.

“Closed platforms, chat groups, social media groups, can serve as a public megaphone as much as an open platform,” said Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong.

 

Source: BBC

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