Govt will not hesitate to use full force of the law to fight misinformation, if circumstances warrant: Iswaran

Often, engagement with the party in question suffices to clear up the misinformation.

Sulaiman Daud | February 02, 2021, 02:31 PM

The government will not always resort to "extreme use" of the legislative levers in response to misinformation, unless the circumstances warrant it.

Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said that the government has a range of options available, such as public education, a targeted effort to clarify a point on government website, or working to address the specific concern of the party in question.

Engagement usually suffices

Iswaran was responding to a question from Workers' Party Member of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim, who asked if a "degree of the benefit of doubt" could be afforded to people who "unwittingly" share misinformation.

"I have in mind a grandma who may run the risk of falling afoul of POFMA (Protection against Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act) because she shares reservations in a WhatsApp message which she receives about MRNA vaccines and she's exercising just individual skepticism," he said.

Iswaran also added that, "...the kinds of examples that the Member cites, very often we have found that engagement with the relevant parties is suffice to clarify the matter and correct the misinformation."

Earlier, Iswaran answered a question by He Ting Ru, also of the Workers' Party, whether the POFMA Office is taking any action against misinformation over Covid-19 and vaccines, and asked about the measures taken, if any, "bearing in mind the need to ensure that there will not be a chilling effect on legitimate concerns being raised."

He said that misinformation is a "serious challenge" to Singapore's fight against Covid-19.

60 misinformation incidents

In the past year, the authorities have responded to over 60 instances of "speculation, rumours, scams and outright falsehoods pertaining to Covid-19."

Over the past few weeks, vaccination information has been conveyed through print and broadcast interviews, social media and direct messaging platforms.

The government has worked with major tech companies to to ensure that authoritative sources, including the Ministry of Health website is "prominently included" on their platforms.

As the vaccination rollout continues, community volunteers from the People's Association and Silver Generation ambassadors will be making house visits to speak to seniors and address their concerns about the vaccines.

However, Iswaran did not rule out the use of POFMA in serious cases.

"We are also actively monitoring for vaccine-related misinformation. Where there is cause for action, we will not hesitate to use the full force of the law."

Top image from CNA video.