April 1, 2019 / 12:00 PM / 6 months ago

Singapore seeks social media "corrections" in proposed fake news law

* Criminal offences apply only to “malicious actors”

* Online platforms face “ability to profit” cut off

* Proposed law comes amid talk of elections

By Fathin Ungku

SINGAPORE, April 1 (Reuters) - Singapore tabled new fake news legislation in parliament on Monday requiring social media to carry warnings on posts it considers false and remove comments that are against “public interest”.

The move came two days after Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said in a Washington Post op-ed that governments should play a more active role in regulating the online platform.

The bill proposes that the government gets online platforms to publish warnings or “corrections” alongside posts carrying false information without removing them.

This would be the “primary response” to counter falsehoods online, the Law Ministry said.

“That way, in a sense, people can read whatever they want and make up their minds. That is our preference,” Law Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters on Monday.

“This legislation deals with false statements of facts. It doesn’t deal with opinions, it doesn’t deal with viewpoints. You can have whatever viewpoints however reasonable or unreasonable,” he added.

Under the proposals, which have to be approved by parliament, criminal sanctions will only be imposed if the falsehoods are spread by “malicious actors” who “undermine society”, the ministry said without elaborating.

The ministry also said it would cut off an online site’s “ability to profit”, without shutting it down, if the site had published three falsehoods that are “against the public interest” in the last six months.

It did not say how it would cut off a site’s profit streams.

The bill also comes amid talk of a possible general election this year. Law Minister Shanmugam declined to comment when asked if the new legislation was related to an election.

Singapore, which has been run by the same political party since independence from Britain more than 50 years ago, says it is vulnerable to fake news because of its position as a global financial hub, its mixed ethnic and religious population and widespread internet access.

Facebook, which has its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore and recently unveiled plans to invest $1 billion in its first Asian data centre in the city-state, has previously sparred with the government over fake news.

But the tech giant announced in January that it would also set up a new regional operations centre focused on monitoring election-related content in its Singapore offices.

Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. (Editing by Nick Macfie)

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