“Fake news Bill”: Will your next Facebook post land you in jail?
You can still criticise the government.
Law Minister K. Shanmugam introduced the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill in Parliament on April 1.
According to the Ministry of Law, this Bill is designed to protect society from the damage caused by deliberate online falsehoods and fake accounts that spread them.
When there is an online falsehood that undermines public interest, the Government will either require it to be updated with a correction or taken down.
People or firms who knowingly spread harmful falsehoods or disinformation will also be sanctioned.
According to Shanmugam, this Bill does not restrict free speech. Instead, including a correction exposes readers to more viewpoints which the Law Minister says will lead to “more informed discussions on issues”.
Will my Facebook post land me in jail?
The bill is proposing several measures to deal with falsehoods, but if you post on Facebook something like “I guess my cai png must have been cooked by someone without taste buds”, you’re not going to get into trouble with this Bill.
To get into trouble, two criteria must be met:
- It is a false statement of fact
- It must be in the public interest for the Government to take action
Public interest matters include national security, public health and safety, election outcomes, as well as confidence in public institutions, to name a few.
Criminal sanctions are only enforced against those who deliberately disseminate falsehoods with malicious intent.
The Ministry clarified that opinion, criticism, satire and parody are not covered by the Bill.
In case you can’t tell the difference between truth, opinion, and falsehoods, here’s a quick analogy using cai png (Economical Rice):
Truth: Cai Png served at this chain of food courts contains chicken, fish, and pork.
Opinion/Commentary: Cai Png served at this chain of food courts tastes worse than crap because the Government has failed in its efforts to promote hawker culture.
Falsehood: Cai Png served at this chain of food courts tastes worse than crap because it contains cancer-causing ingredients. The AVA knows but they are doing nothing about it! All they care about is rent and tax money!!
So you’re free to say how bad the cai png tastes or criticise the Government’s efforts to preserve hawker culture – they’re subjective opinions – but when you start to say that AVA knows about cancer-causing cai png and is turning a blind eye, that’s a falsehood.
And when you say that a chain of food court’s food causes cancer, that would likely cause a public health scare.
Jail-term and fine penalty
The Straits Times reported that individuals who deliberately spread online falsehoods with the intention to harm public interest will face a jail term of up to 10 years.
Firms who do not comply with correction or take-down directions will face a fine of up to S$1 million.
However, the Ministry said that corrections (but the Government or a credible third party) are the Bill’s primary tool against online falsehoods and will be used in most situations.