By: Winona Young, Head Staff Writer
Singapore’s government has passed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill (POFMB). POFMB criminalizes the publication of any “fake news” online. This includes places like news sites, Facebook, message boards, and even messaging apps like Whatsapp. Perpetrators may be subjected to jail time as high as 10 years and face a fine of 1 million Singapore dollars (approx. $980,000 CAD).
Singapore is not an outlier in undermining the free flow of information. A little country called America has a president who has denounced legitimate newspapers under the guise of “fake news.” Places like Russia and Malaysia have also adopted similar bills. But these policies may be less about actually combating disinformation and more about censorship.
POFMB sounds like something out of the dystopian novels many read in high school. It draws one too many parallels to Orwellian fiction. But far from fiction, Singapore regulating “truth” is now a horrifying reality. With the passing of this law, any minister might now have the power to decide what is fake news. Who knows what could be considered “the truth” in Singapore now.
Perhaps the most Orwellian thing of all to emerge from this new bill is a vending machine I saw on my visit to Singapore last month. Deep in a food court I saw it: bright and glossy, with the words, “THE BEST ANTIBIOTIC AGAINST FAKE NEWS.” Inside were copies of Singapore’s national newspaper, The Straits Times. It’s also sometimes called the government’s mouthpiece.
As a former permanent resident of Singapore, the phrase “benevolent dictatorship” was often used to describe the Singaporean government. We lived in a city of heavy regulations and numerous fines. A bill like POFMB risks stifling the freedom of speech of Singaporeans. From journalists to online forum bloggers, all the way to everyday people like my friends.
Singapore is still a beautiful and a booming economic powerhouse. But newspaper vending machines and the POFMB should remind us that Singapore’s government is all too ready to persecute “fake news.” The POFMB is at risk of silencing Singaporean voices in the future. In trying to avoid “fake news,” people will only get copies of government-issued truth instead.