Tech firms will work with Government on fake news law despite concerns

The logos of online platforms (from left) Facebook, Twitter and Google.
The logos of online platforms (from left) Facebook, Twitter and Google. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

Technology companies said yesterday they will work with the Government on the implementation of a new fake news law, despite their concerns about portfolio ministers' powers to order corrections and take-downs of social media posts and the legislation's impact on the digital media sector.

Twitter highlighted the new Codes of Practice which tech companies must adhere to under the law, to prevent their platforms from being used to spread online falsehoods.

Its spokesman said it hopes the Government will take into account the issues it raised during consultation, and that its recommendations would be reflected in the Codes of Practice, particularly the "implications for freedom of expression and the potential for regulatory overreach".

"While the full extent of the law has yet to be revealed, we hope the concerns carefully articulated by academics, journalists and civil society groups in Singapore and around the world in recent weeks will be addressed appropriately," he added.

The comments came a day after Parliament passed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill on Wednesday.

The Codes of Practice, which are being developed by the Government in consultation with Internet intermediaries like social media platforms, require the companies to have reasonable verification measures to prevent fake accounts or bots from being created or used for malicious activities.

The companies also have to ensure that political advertisements disclose who is the source, and have systems in place to downplay fake news.

 
 
 

A Google spokesman said it remains concerned that the new law will "hurt innovation and the growth of the digital information ecosystem". The spokesman added: "How the law is implemented matters, and we are committed to working with policymakers on this process."

Facebook's vice-president of public policy in Asia-Pacific, Mr Simon Milner, noted it had recently rolled out its third-party fact-checking service to Singapore.

"We remain concerned with aspects of the new law which grants broad powers to the Singapore executive branch to compel us to remove content they deem to be false and to push a government notification to users," he said. He added Facebook hopes there will be a "proportionate and measured approach in practice" of the law.

Twitter, meanwhile, said it was reviewing the passing of the law, adding that it was committed to working with the Government and others to "promote the health of the public conversation".

The Asia Internet Coalition's managing director Jeff Paine said its members will work with the Government on implementing the new law, and promoting digital and media literacy to address and reduce the impact of online falsehoods.

• Additional reporting by Tham Yuen-C

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2019, with the headline 'Tech firms will work with Govt on fake news law despite concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe