StatesTimes Review, your days are numbered

Indeed that is how I would have “Too Long; Didn’t Read”-ed the report of the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods.

The committee made 22 recommendations, including enacting legislation, urging (civil service lingo for “requiring”) technology companies to take proactive steps  to tackle fake content and creating a national framework to guide public education.

Law, corporate enforcement an education. A very good mix.

On disrupting online falsehoods, the committee said the Government should have the powers to limit or block the spread of fake news, and discredit the sources of such falsehoods. 

The measures will need to be effective in a matter of hours, to achieve the aim of stopping the falsehoods going viral. These measures could including take-down powers, blocking access, and tagging corrections and notifications.

The committee also urged the Government to consider laws that could cut off digital advertising revenue to those who spread online falsehoods, and impose criminal sanctions in serious cases, for instance, when falsehoods cause public disorder or election interference.

Platforms such as Facebook will want to comply. They have been a target of government scrutiny around the globe and their share prices and standing have been hit hard.

The committee recommend these companies to disclose when content is sponsored, and by whom and also to undertake regular voluntary reporting and independent audits.

This would mean that fake news sites would be suffocated to oblivion by having their supply of income cut off.

When all these are in place, it would mean one thing: sites such as the “States Times Review” would be extinguished and would be denied the opportunity to re-spawn. 

I think policing this law has its difficulties, but is not altogether impossible. 

We start with the first category of fakery, the intentional one. 

This should perhaps be the target of legislation. The one who shouts “fire” in a crowded cinema in mischief.

To say that the sun circles the earth, that’s fake news. 

To say that Lee Hsien Loong stole the people’s money is not fake news, but let the writer beware. 

It is not difficult to develop legal tests or policy measures to determine this type of nonsense. Today, the tort of defamation has well established precedence on what constitutes libel or slander. The law can be built around incorporating these principles into legislation.

One of the defences against defamation is in “serving the public interest”. It would be extremely hard for a site such as States Times Review to justify itself in this manner. 

The other area where it is more difficult to target, are the genuine belief sites. This includes David Woolf material. The alternative medicine, new age cures and liberal thought sites.

There is a scientific report and justification for just about every human condition out there. Smoking cures hepatitis, drinking certain roots cures cancer. Are they true? You might think no, but you cannot demonstrate it with certainty. 

This is the area that should be left to education and collective wisdom of the people. This is part of the recommendation by the committee.

Thum Ping Tjin had an alternative view of history, a revisionist’s view. Held against the legal tests, this may not be fake news. His positions were rigorously debated on the public arena and the Select Committee was unanimous in its decision that Thum had misled the public about his credentials and research on Operation Coldstore.

This is the framework in action. It would be good that the public did more of this against all content they receive through the internet.

If it can be proven that Thum had malicious intent, then under new laws, he ought to be taken to task.

We live in a complex new world where everyone and anyone has the power of printing press. We can create panic and disorder at will, whim and fancy. 

Because of this, we do need policies and laws to protect society. Whilst we are busy deliberating “how” to do it, we need these policies to be in action today.

 

 

About the author

Tay Leong Tan

Tay Leong Tan is a collective of 3 writers. Tay, Leong and Tan. (Who were you expecting?!) We are enthusiastic about labour issues, economics and current affairs in particular.

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