The Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods final day of hearings was rudely adjourned after a ruckus caused by activist Han Hui Hui. Her actions prompted her to be physically removed from the chambers in Parliament.
In classic Hui Hui style, she held up some papers to the cameras in the room whilst Oxford-trained historian Thum Ping Tjin was in the middle of delivering his testimony.
Parliament staff duly removed her papers and told her to leave, but she declined.
“I want to sit here because I want to follow the hearing… What else you want from me? I already give you my papers… What did i do wrong? Can you give me an official paper to say I cannot stay?”
One female member of staff was heard saying, “Either you walk out on your own or I bring you out.”
“I’m not going,” replied Han, who was then physically lifted out of the chambers by three women.
I would pay to watch that video. I really would.
Han Hui Hui is partly the reason why we need these laws in the first place.
The problem we have isn’t with the likes of Kirsten Han, Andrew Loh, The Online Citizen and other opinion sites and journalists. It is easy for the public to understand what is an opinion and what is a legitimate question.
It is not so easy, for example when someone shows you a picture of a traffic policeman alongside a caption that claims “police are issuing on-the-spot cash fines to pedestrians caught using their mobile phones while crossing the roads”. This caused national alarm and many believed it. Despite clarification and national press, until today some people continue to believe it.
If you have proof, evidence or have reason to believe the Prime Minister is stealing money for private use, that is not fake news. If you accuse the Prime Minister of misappropriating funds, then that is not just fake news, that amounts to defamation – which is what Roy Ngerng did a few years ago.
Andrew Loh suggested the use of intent to decide if fake news ought to be pursued. However, intent is a bad measure of one’s state of guilt. One can breach the law honestly and unintentionally.
There are a wide variety of tests the courts can employ to determine culpability, without throwing people into fear of speaking – or as students of defamation law would be familiar – the chilling effect. Draftsmen of the law can create a clear test. In so doing, there is no reason why people should clam up and worry about freedom of speech.
Extent of harm, maliciousness, extent of knowledge…maybe even an every effort rule to enforce a publisher to determine the facts behind an article, or to clarify that facts are missing. These rules, though present currently in ethics and morals, are absent in law. We need a means of putting ethics on a legal footing.
If you need a reason why we need these laws, turn no further than the literal pink elephant in the Parliament room – Ms. Han.