- Facebook’s representative doesn’t want to answer questions on his firm’s behaviour
Simon Milner from Facebook didn’t want to answer questions about Facebook’s conduct outside of Singapore. After the Cambridge Analytica privacy breach, Facebook kept it quiet from users for years. Even recently, they did not answer the UK Parliament truthfully about this.
Milner had the cheek to ask why he needed to answer such questions. Does he expect Singaporeans to just believe his proclamations about protecting users’ data, despite evidence that Facebook hasn’t done so? OK, actually most of us still use Facebook despite all that, myself included. But that’s why we need Parliamentarians to represent our interests and hold them to account.
- Foreign activists talked big but refused to debate their views openly
Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch said Singapore is authoritarian, the same stuff they’ve been spouting for years, quoting only opposition supporters and disregarding what Singaporeans express at the ballot box. But when invited to appear before the Committee, they refused. Maybe because they would be asked about their sources and the flaws in their reports?
- Kirsten Han won’t take down news that attacks Muslims
Kirsten Han was asked about several pieces of fake news that caused attacks on Muslims. A fake rape claim that led to anti-Muslim riots and Muslim deaths, a cartoon that portrayed Muslims raping and stabbing babies, a fake video that claimed Muslims celebrate terrorist attacks.
She said she wouldn’t take down such news, even if it’s spreading further hatred and violence. Guess it is not her problem or her job to talk to families of the dead victims.
She said as long as the people accused have a right to rebut, it’s OK to keep fake news online. But when she thought the summary of the proceedings misrepresented her, she didn’t just rebut. She wants the summary to be corrected.
- Jolovan Wham threw a “hissy fit”
Jolovan Wham whined that he had waited for hours and had even worn a suit, but was only given a 7-minute hearing. He himself called it a “hissy fit”. He said he had other views to share. Why hadn’t he put it in the written submission then? He thinks the Committee exists as a forum for him to get publicity?
- PJ Thum wants to falsely accuse others but doesn’t want to be questioned
PJ Thum submitted a paper saying that anti-Communist arrests were the only time fake news affected Singapore. Firstly, why did he submit this to a committee on ONLINE falsehoods?
Secondly, when questioned on his views, he turned around and said, “I wonder what his (Shanmugam’s) motivation was in grilling me about my academic work”. Eh hello, you submit a paper and expect not to be questioned on it? If Shanmugam had not questioned you, you would have said “the Government has no rebuttal on my views”.
By the way, he admitted that his views don’t take into account the first-hand accounts of the Communists, or even the full views of the British Special Branch that he quotes. He hasn’t even read some of the accounts, especially if they’re in Chinese. Even Bertha Henson said “his reputation as a historian looks like washed down the tubes” after the exchange.
Aiyoh, enough about these people. Claim that they believe in free debate, but refuse to be actually debated. Let’s move on to some actual experts.
- Cherian George agrees to using law against fake news
Dr Cherian George, darling of the liberals, was quite fair in his assessment. He has actually studied fake news and how it pits races against each other, and concluded that there needs to be laws against it.
He said, “In cases of incitement, some have referred to the law as maybe the last resort. I would go further. I would say that if today a politician or a preacher stands up and says our country has no room for this other community, I don’t think that’s the time to distribute media literacy leaflets… The law is sometimes the first resort…”
- Fake news ruptures societies irreparably
Representatives from Ukraine, Indonesia, Czech Republic, etc. talked about their countries’ disastrous experiences with fake news. Fake news has started mobs that kill innocent people. They’ve split society irreparably along ethnic lines, and in the case of Ukraine, enabled foreign powers to invade easily.
People have started grassroots attempts to stop fake news, but the effectiveness is limited. Technology companies often do not agree to take down fake news. As a result, a quarter or more of people still believe fake news.
- Foreign powers are probably already using it to divide Singapore
Dr Shashi Jayakumar, head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security, said fake news aggressors will try to divide Singapore along racial lines. Other common tactics are to infiltrate local NGOs and bribe politicians to sing a certain tune.
Such tactics are already used in Malaysia and Indonesia, so they will probably try to use it against Singapore. Such power is typically built up before any conflict happens. Singapore is more vulnerable to such tactics because we are an open multi-cultural society. Thus, “it would be a mistake to assume this is not already happening in Singapore”. And even if it’s already happening, we wouldn’t be able to detect it.
- All experts think action is needed to fight fake news
Experts in law, media, technology and national security, both local and foreign, agreed we need more action to fight fake news. These include media literacy, technological solutions, legislation, etc.
We can’t just rely on the “marketplace of ideas” that people like Kirsten Han talk about. Because of social media algorithms and information overload, people are fed only news that they’re likely to agree with, or ignore other sources.
- Current legislation is not enough
Dean of SMU Law Dr Goh Yihan said current legislation is not enough to tackle fake news. Most of the existing laws don’t require the fake content to be taken down. Otherwise they have limitations, e.g. the Sedition Act only covers certain types of speech and the Prevention of Harassment Act requires the people affected to sue.
As for the freedom of speech, multiple experts said it doesn’t extend to falsehoods, in fact falsehoods undermine the public discourse. Thio Li-ann said it’s like “crying fire in a theatre”— not worth protecting because it’s fake and causes so much harm.
The people who oppose further action are basically technology companies who obviously don’t want to be regulated, and a small group of activists who put their faith in “free speech” despite what has happened to the “free societies” they talk about so much, the US and UK. Those who support further action are internationally renowned academics and people who saw fake news flood their countries. Who would you rather believe?