Facebook's refusal to take down a post which makes defamatory allegations against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Singapore Government in relation to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal shines light on the relationship between free speech and fake news. The post, by sociopolitical site States Times Review, is an egregious example of fake news cooked up by a media tuck shop that serves dubious fare. Facebook, by contrast, is a commercial empire. With 2.27 billion monthly active users, more than 33,000 employees, and offices and data centres spread across the world, it has been called "a global nation unto itself". The protection of free speech features creditably on its agenda.
Wittingly or otherwise, Facebook's actions serve to amplify the space for fake news. Facebook cannot claim to be innocent of that amplification merely because it sees itself as a platform and not as a publisher. This is a disingenuous distinction when a platform can be used to achieve electoral outcomes, practise propaganda and spread hate speech. And not for the first time. The New York Times said Facebook misled the American public about its knowledge of how it was used by Russian hackers to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. And in an editorial yesterday, the paper called out Facebook for its "staggering lack of corporate responsibility and civic duty in the wake of this crisis".