New Bill to Protect Society from Online Falsehoods and Malicious Actors
1. The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has tabled the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill for First Reading in Parliament today. This Bill seeks to protect society against damage from online falsehoods created by malicious actors.
2. Such online falsehoods have had serious consequences. They are being used to divide society, spread hate, and weaken democratic institutions. Combined with digital technology, the dangers of falsehoods have become more serious and greater in scale. Annex A sets out examples which demonstrate the consequences of online falsehoods around the world.
3. Other countries have moved to deal with the problem. Singapore must act, and ensure we have the defences needed to deal with the problem. The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods recommended a multi-pronged, whole-of-nation response. The Government has accepted in-principle the Select Committee’s recommendations. Annex B sets out international developments and Annex C lays out the measures taken by the Government to implement the Select Committee’s Recommendations.
4. Our citizens and civic society are key to upholding the quality of information in our public life, discussions and debate. The Government is supporting this whole-of-society effort, including by strengthening public education and awareness (as set out in Annex D).
5. This Bill is a necessary part of this multi-pronged response. It implements recommendations of the Select Committee for legislation to disrupt online falsehoods. These recommendations take into consideration the proposals and feedback from members of the public who gave evidence to the Select Committee.
6. For online falsehoods affecting private persons, amendments have been tabled to the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA), to strengthen remedies and improve the speed of recourse.
Key Features of the Bill
7. The Bill targets falsehoods, not opinions and criticisms. The Bill defines a falsehood as a statement of fact that is false or misleading. It does not cover opinions, criticisms, satire or parody. Annex E sets out some examples of falsehoods and opinions to demonstrate the scope of the Bill.
8. Corrections will be the primary action. Corrections will be the primary response to a harmful online falsehood that is actively spreading. Corrections will usually require the facts to be put up alongside the falsehood, so that the facts can travel together with the falsehood. Online platforms may also be required to ensure that those who previously saw the falsehood also see the correction (see Annex F for why this is needed).
9. The falsehood will not be removed; the facts will be put up alongside, so people can decide for themselves. Research shows that corrections work, and are an important antidote to falsehoods.
10. Corrections are not criminal sanctions (Annex G).
11. Criminal offences apply only to malicious actors. Only those who act to deliberately undermine society using falsehoods will be subject to the criminal offences.
12. The Courts will have the final say on what is false. Any decision by the Government on what is false can be overridden by the Courts on appeal. What is false is ultimately for the Courts to decide.
13. The Bill will not affect most average citizens. For most people, the right response is instead education and fact-checking. These are areas the Government is strengthening.
14. The Bill also provides for the following measures:
a. Take down of falsehoods in serious cases, to stop harm to society.
b. Disabling of inauthentic online accounts or bots that are spreading falsehoods against the public interest. This targets the use of inauthentic accounts or bots to manipulate and distort discourse amongst people.
c. Declaration of an online site that repeatedly spreads falsehoods, to cut off its ability to profit, without shutting it down. The online site must have, in the preceding 6 months, published three different falsehoods that are the subject of active Directions, meaning that each falsehood was against the public interest.
d. Require the online platforms to keep their platforms safe and secure through the introduction of binding Codes of Practice. These Codes of Practice target 3 specific areas:
(i) Inauthentic online accounts and bots
(ii) Digital advertising transparency
(iii) De-prioritising falsehoods
Please see Annex H – Infographic on Four Key Things About the Bill.
15. This Bill targets falsehoods, not free speech. It will help ensure online falsehoods do not drown out authentic speech and ideas, and undermine democratic processes and society. The aim is to keep in place the conditions for Singaporeans, as individuals and civic society, to build a healthy and robust public discourse, informed by the facts.