Fake news bill: Would a Facebook post get you a staycation in Changi Prison?

By April 11, 2019Current

TL;DR – No, it probably won’t. But there are far worse consequences than being in jail.

Earlier this week, we published an article about how someone posted a racist hate speech. We also talked about how dangerous it can be if people start spreading rumours with malicious intent in the name of freedom of speech.

We specifically highlighted the May 1998 riots in Indonesia, not for nothing, but it is one tragedy that should serve as a reminder for us, just how dangerous the spread of fake news and dangerous rumors can be.

The May 1998 riots of Indonesia

The May 1998 riots, also referred to as Tragedi Mei ’98, were triggered by economic problems and aimed mostly at two minority groups in the overwhelmingly Muslim and ethnic Malay nation – the Christians and Chinese.

Rumours about ethnic Chinese shop-owners hoarding food and imminent price rises were causing panic, which boiled over into food riots in January and February in 1998, largely against ethnic Chinese traders.

However, investigation later revealed that the violence was instigated by local hired preman (gangster). Compelling evidence also points to how the local military and police were aware of the “riot systems” and pattern of attacks, but took no steps to protect Chinese Indonesians.

As a result, the violence which was state-sponsored and orchestrated to incite racial and religious conflict, had more than 1,000 people killed, and more than 100 women raped and sexually assaulted.

Is Singapore’s proposed fake news law to protect society from online falsehoods and malicious actors really not a good idea?

Just so you know, propaganda war is not a modern invention that only exists in digital age. It has been an age-old wartime tactic that is used to influence the hearts and minds of the public.

Only difference is that, social media platforms has raised the stakes and made it easier to spread actual violence and chaos across the globe as the Internet is unprecedentedly accessible for almost everybody. Yes, the ease and speed of disseminating information online has created a monster of its own.

Some people wondered why the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill is even necessary.

Some human rights activists even demanded for the bill to be rejected, claiming that it would “excessively restrict online freedom of speech”.

Don’t think, for a minute, that Singapore’s always so safe, and don’t think that all the proposed new laws are just out to get the anti-establishment folks. That will be navel-grazing and being extremely short-sighted, when we actually have faced real instances of state-sponsored campaigns that threaten our national security.

We don’t even have to look too far or dig too deep into the recesses of our history. The recent Singapore-Malaysia spat has already seen signs of “foreign interference and foreign disinformation”. Here’s more on this from the Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong.

So, what if having the new law is exactly to protect us from horrifying consequences of conflicts which could lead racial and social unrest, something that we – being a vulnerable country – may not be able to handle? May I remind that we’re but a small and young country in a region where our neighbours are not exactly like us demographically?

Are the past examples of societal conflict which resulted in destructive riots not enough to remind us of importance of minimising differences and avoiding conflict within society for the sake of national unity and the common good?

Then, is it worth exchanging the existing privilege of being able to live in a state of peace, stability and harmony regardless of race, language and religion here in Singapore for this so-called freedom of speech – which people often confer as an absolute right to speak without corresponding responsibility attached?

Or are we just taking things for granted?


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Author JW

I am nice, most of the time!

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