With more than a week gone by since the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act was passed in Parliament on May 8, it is an opportune time to take stock of the heated debate which surrounded the legislation. Introduced on April 1 as a Bill, it drew criticism for its scope and wide powers. Academics feared it would stifle research, and some questioned why the legislation allows ministers to decide what constitutes an online falsehood against the public interest. Ministers, notably Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, have assiduously argued the law's merits, writing commentaries and giving multiple briefings and interviews, including to local bloggers to reach sceptical social media audiences. The Government's earnestness in working to win Singaporeans over underscores the seriousness of this law.
Fake news creating turmoil is no longer a theoretical risk but a reality in many societies - from fake WhatsApp images instigating riots, to bot-controlled Twitter and Facebook accounts swaying elections. The danger will be higher with deep-fakes - when images and voices of people can be manipulated, or created digitally and realistically, to make people seem to do or say whatever one wants. Singapore is a young nation-state with a small, multiracial and highly globalised population. Its high-profile success as a cohesive society comes with an existential risk: it will always be an attractive target for some; and it cannot discount the risk of an unfriendly state or non-state actors wanting to foment unrest here. Against this backdrop, the new Act seeks to manage the risk of such malicious attacks.