New legislation to combat fake news likely to be introduced next year: Shanmugam

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Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said that the government is preparing to introduce new laws to combat fake news after consulting with stakeholders in the second half of this year.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaking at the "Keep It Real: Truth And Trust In The Media" conference on June 19, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaking at the "Keep It Real: Truth And Trust In The Media" conference on June 19, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - New legislation to tackle fake news is likely to be introduced next year, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (June 19).

He said the Government has to maintain a strong climate of trust, and be able to counter misinformation spread online as well.

The authorities must be equipped to deal with current challenges, he said, adding that society, the media and Internet companies also have a role to play.

Mr Shanmugam gave an update on the ongoing review to tackle fake news during his keynote speech at a conference that discusses the issue.

Titled "Keep It Real: Truth And Trust In The Media", the conference is organised by The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan-Ifra).

Mr Shanmugam said the Government will consult stakeholders in the second half of this year on legislation to counter fake news.

An earlier survey showed 91 per cent of Singaporeans supported stronger laws to ensure fake news is removed or corrected, he said.

He added that there are teams in Germany and the United Kingdom to study what those countries are doing on that front. For instance, Germany is considering laws that would require social networks to take down various types of "unlawful content".

Misinformation is more serious now than before, and is an "easy and effective" way to advance agendas, Mr Shanmugam noted.

Members of the public and of civil society have to help foster a culture where the truth is protected, he said. That is why media literacy is extremely important, so people can spot fake news and deal with it, he added.

The media plays an important role in being a trusted source of news, while companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter "bear a significant responsibility" in tackling misinformation too, he said.

Some of these firms have given their voluntary commitment to remove reported hate speech within 24 hours, but this may not be enough, Mr Shanmugam said.

Meanwhile, the Government cannot merely rely on the standards of media companies as the negative impact of false narratives is amplified by "echo chambers" online, said Mr Shanmugam.

He noted that Singapore has been "particularly vulnerable" to foreign influences harnessing fake news for their own ends.

The country also faces issues such as misinformation exploiting racial and religious fault lines, and rumours on social media like WhatsApp that confuse and promote distrust.

"If the distrust becomes deep-rooted, people will have serious doubts about the institutions, about leadership, about governance," he said.

There are limited remedies to deal with falsehoods under current laws, the minister told Parliament in April when he announced a review to tackle the problem.

On Monday, he summed up to reporters what the new laws should do: "We know what the end point should be. It should be to delegitimise fake news, help people identify what is and what is not fake news, and to deal with the perpetrators of fake news."

In their opening addresses for the conference, ST editor Warren Fernandez and Wan-Ifra Asia director Gilles Demptos highlighted the need to distinguish between different types of fake news to deal with them effectively.

The two-day conference is held at the Singapore Management University's new School of Law Building on Armenian street.

Participants will examine practical fact-checking projects from Asia and around the world on the first day.

On the second day, some participants will attend one of three workshops to drill deeper into concrete fact-checking measures, including media literacy programmes and the legal and regulatory framework to tackle misinformation.

The conference is organised in partnership with the Canadian High Commission, Facebook, Google, German political organisation Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the National Library Board, and Singapore Management University.

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