On 1 April 2019, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill was tabled in Singapore’s Parliament.
The bill aims to stem the communication of false statements of fact, enable the detection and control of information manipulation, and promote the transparency of online political advertisements.
Any person or organisation that spreads online falsehoods with malicious intent to harm the public interest in Singapore could face a fine of up to SGD 500,000 or, in the case of an individual, a five-year imprisonment term.
Such a statement would be considered harm to the public interest if its communication is likely to prejudice Singapore’s security, public health and safety, or foreign relations or to influence election results, incite hatred, or diminish public confidence in the performance of any public function.
The bill covers only false statements of fact, i.e., that a reasonable person perceiving the statement would consider it to be a “representation of fact”. As such, opinions are not caught by the new law.
Also, persons who innocently (as opposed to maliciously) share a false statement of fact will not be criminally liable, but may be required to correct or remove the relevant post.
Internet intermediaries such as social media platforms will also be required to comply with any directions that they may receive, such as displaying correction notices or removing false statements of facts from their platforms, disabling fake accounts operated by bots, and blocking advertisements on fake news sites.
A failure to comply with such directions could subject these intermediaries to a fine of up to SGD 1 million and, in the case of an individual, imprisonment of up to 12 months.
The bill is expected to be debated in Parliament in the coming months.
Amendments to the Protection from Harassment Act were also tabled on 1 April 2019 to enhance the remedies that victims affected by online falsehoods can receive.