After a period of highly-publicised hearings and consultations with various parties, the Singapore Government has proposed The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill from the 1st of April 2019.
The Bill is targeted to those who deliberately fabricate fake news and spread it as if it were real, with the intent to stir tensions among society or even to defame someone.
However, the announcement has also been greeted with skepticism among netizens due to its seemingly broad scope with one of the major concerns being that the bill may be used to curb free speech or to make it easier for the authorities to crack down on dissenting voices.
Who can be charged?
The Bill does not seek to punish those who merely spread the original offending post. This means that if you share a particular article online that is later established to be fake news on your own account, you will not be sanctioned as it is based on a misunderstanding.
However, if you are the one who fabricated the post and shared it on social media, the Prosecution will have to determine the malicious intent behind the falsehood – namely if public interest is, or could be harmed.
This would mean, content creators and editors of alternative news sites will be required to undergo stricter fact-checking processes before publishing their articles.
Who decides what is a falsehood?
Under the draft law, ministers will now have the power to call for corrections or removals of online falsehoods and demand sites spreading such falsehoods to be blocked if public interest is, or could be harmed.
The Courts will be the final arbiter if applications to the respective ministers are rejected.
What will happen if I get charged under this new law?
If found guilty of spreading falsehoods with a malicious intent, the suspect could be jailed to up to 10 years.
As part of the investigation, the police will look at objective facts, circumstances and context. The Attorney-General’s Chambers will then make the decision on prosecution.
If the case goes to court, the court will then have to decide “beyond any reasonable doubt” as to whether there was a case to be made for this person to have published the post with knowledge of falsity, and intention to undermine public interest.
Will I get into trouble if I disagree with the government?
The short answer is no. The proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act allows for people to disagree with a government decision to continue expressing their opinions on the matter.
However, if claims are being made as part of the opinion that might cross the line into defamation or undermining public interest, then this bill will kick in and you will be asked to correct or remove the offending post.
You will also be allowed to appeal to the courts. This appeal can be made after applications to the ministers to vary or cancel the orders are rejected.
To know more about how the new Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act can affect you, or if you have been accused of spreading a falsehood, please contact us.
Our team of lawyers, with Amarjit Singh Sidhu have plenty of experience in cases ranging from criminal to family law. Amarjit Singh has defended numerous clients over the years and with his deep and vast legal knowledge, coupled with his compassionate touch, will be able to guide you through the legal process of your case.