Select Committee on fake news

Take care not to stifle genuine discourse

It is important to be clear-minded about the issue of fake news, and not overreact by enacting overly restrictive legislation (Select Committee to examine fake news threat; Jan 11).

First, fake news is not news, but simply lies.

This is not exclusive to the Internet, and occurs both online and offline. The only difference is the speed with which such lies can be spread on new media platforms.

While we should try to limit the reach of lies and falsehoods, an overreaction may instead stifle genuine discourse.

Existing laws on national security and defamation adequately address this issue. For example, in the case of the now defunct The Real Singapore, the operators were charged using sedition laws.

Second, fake news can come in a variety of forms - from the innocuous slip and uninformed opinion to biased commentaries and lies intended to sway public opinion and cause widespread alarm.

It is impossible to eliminate and regulate the entire spectrum of inaccurate information without causing greater harm.

We should instead encourage critical thinking skills and allow Singaporeans' sense of discernment to develop, especially when it comes to media consumption.

Third, social media platforms like Facebook are primarily meant for social interaction. Regulating what can be said on such communication platforms overly restricts human activity and is likely to lead to adverse pushbacks.

The "light touch" approach adopted by the Government thus far has worked well and has allowed Singapore to strike a fine balance between innovation and regulation.

In an age of a globalised contest of ideas and opinions, we should focus on boosting the resilience and critical thinking ability of Singaporeans, and strengthen Singapore's ability to invent or innovate and harness new media technologies - which cannot take place in a vacuum.

Ivan Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2018, with the headline 'Take care not to stifle genuine discourse'. Print Edition | Subscribe