POFMA is not for politicians

Before I talk about POFMA, I want to point you to this piece of news dated 2018: Youth self-radicalisation a concern: Shanmugam (https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/youth-self-radicalisation-concern-shanmugam

In this article, the Minister raised concerns that there was a trend in radicalised youth having heavy reliance on Internet and social media for information, including religious teachings. Terrorist groups operating on social media are finding it easy to infect others with their propaganda. 

With their “weak religious foundations” and poor understanding, youths are susceptible and may be “riled up to do something bad” after witnessing violence such as beheadings by terrorist groups, or after hearing words taken out of context. 

On a global front, let us recall the events affecting the US Presidential Elections of 2016. Russian agents were known to have created social media accounts to spread fake news that stirred protests and favored presidential candidate Donald Trump while discrediting candidate Hillary Clinton and her associates. They paid Facebook for advertisements that appeared on that site to spread fake news and turn Americans against one another.

Ads focused on controversial social issues such as race, the Black Lives Matter movement, the 2nd Amendment, immigration, and other issues. The Russians even went so far as to instigate protests and counter protests about a given issue, literally having Americans fight one another. 

The above two circumstances are the reasons for the enacting of Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulations Act. Things that can lead to the manipulation of Singaporeans.  

Out of the four persons being served POFMA directions recently, three are politicians with membership in a local opposition party. The third one, Alex Tan, is merely a mischief maker.

Although Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran said that POFMA was not meant to target political parties and that it was unfortunate that three out of four of them had political statements to make, I thought it was important to point out that fake news does not necessarily arise out of politicians alone.

Just like Alex Tan of the “States Times Review”, there are individuals who have no other agenda but to seek a thrill making mischief and mayhem. These persons can be brushed aside quite swiftly and inconsequentially. 

Then there are groups known as activists; these are persons whom do not belong to political parties but have a private agenda to push. This includes persons aligned to foreign powers. The Russians disrupting the American elections are one such example. 

There are also terrorist organisations that seek to recruit foot soldiers for violent means. This is by far the most dangerous group. 

NMP Anthea Ong asked the Minister an interesting question: does the POFMA office monitor non-partisan news sites and statements? 

In reply, Mr Iswaran said: “If your point is that we are only training our sight on certain types of people and organisations, the answer is no.” He also said that the POFMA office is monitoring for false statements but resources are limited.

“But primarily, we are looking at cases that are egregious, and those will pop out quite naturally and we know what they are. And then we can deal with it,” he said.

POFMA’s purpose is to protect the interests of the nation, not on politics. The politicians being served the POFMA notices today have had a history of being over enthusiastic and, in layman’s words “speak without thinking”. Yet POFMA did not order them to censor, but rather to provide clarification and links to facts so that the public may decide. 

POFMA is a useful piece of legislation and we hope that politicians will be responsible enough not to raise its usage again.

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