April fool’s day came and went. It was a day famous for a bit of fun in fooling people. I told my wife that she was caught on Stomp. Someone told me that my car was towed away. Companies get creative and put up advertisements of wacky versions of their products, such a the Mala flavoured condom.
But even on such a day, a reasonable person would know his limits. You wouldn’t tell someone their children got kidnapped. If you’re an employer, you wouldn’t joke about someone being fired. You wouldn’t carry a plastic bomb into an MRT in the name of April Fools.
In fact, if there was a law to restrict April Fool’s day, we would pretty much understand what the law would sent out to protect and what it allows. We should not be having debates such as “what constitutes a joke” or questioning my limits to the freedom of joking.
The principal is simple – just don’t be an idiot. Don’t harm someone.
And this is precisely what is going on with the new Deliberate Online Falsehoods bill.
It appears that there have been many who have written about this new law with a lot of technicality, a lot of unnecessary splitting of hairs. The result is a confused understanding of what this proposed law actually is.
A few dramatic individuals have even announced that they are leaving Singapore because of this new law.
Without a doubt, we need some sort of control over the types of nonsense being published on the internet. We live in an age where everyone has the power to produce content and everyone has the power to influence. This has caused harm.
Those who produce malicious content hide under the cloak called “the freedom of speech”. Under the protection of this freedom, they upload all sorts of nastiness, motivated either by mischief, money or power.
The BBC has a report on troll farms. The Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) had gathered stolen identities of real Americans, and a formidable encyclopedia of what “works” on social media when it comes to riling up Americans talking about politics.
Fake news sites make money also. Each click of an ad on their site made money for the website’s creator. These sites know how to make fake sensational news that get people riled up and sharing the material widely.
This is what usually works: a daily onslaught of fabricated or exceedingly misleading news stories designed to elevate or demonize political candidates, mixed into the flow of true or mostly true stories about the election. The stories were designed to be believed and shared. On Facebook, they were seeded into conservative and liberal filter bubbles through hyperpartisan media organizations with enormous numbers of Facebook followers.
We might like to think that we are above these silly things, but we all fall for it at some point or another. Look no further than your WhatsApp chat groups – how many of your friends, aunties and uncles are sharing fake health news, hoaxes and misleading articles?
Media can move people to riot. We look no further than our history; Mariah Hertogh was one such case where the media, eager to capitalise on sensationalising news, published pictures irresponsibly and this caused the nation to plunge into riots for 3 days. Eighteen people were killed and 173 injured.
Granted, the Mariah Hertogh riots was not fake news but rather irresponsible journalism. We now have laws to take care of that and those laws have kept the nation peaceful.
In the Western world today, there is much propaganda by extremists. They are out on a mission to recruit people to their cause, which oftentimes ends in violence and widespread death.
We cannot be so sanguine about the freedom of speech that we do not take steps to curtail the spread of their material?
Across the internet since the bill was read, commentators have been picking bones about the Deliberate Online Falsehoods bill.
It is a strange thing.
It is almost as if someone was setting fire at your door and you’re wondering about whether or not you have the right to chase him off your property.
And since the bill was read, nothing has changed on the internet.
Opposition members are still publishing their opinions, rhetoric and criticisms.
The very critics of the bill have written their disdain of it in every way they think it possible.
The work of dissents is not malicious. Whether or not you agree with Lim Tean, Chee Soon Juan or Low Thia Khiang, does not matter. They add value to the country with their contrary opinions and nothing they do has the same intent as the Russian troll farms.
And when the bill is passed, nothing will change for these people. Unless you have the intention to do harm, mischief or to irresponsibly get people up in arms, the new laws will have nothing to do with you.