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Bad news for fake news

Phang Jing Lin
Phang Jing Lin

Published: 6 April 2017, 3:51 PM

The number of fake news trending in Singapore has increased lately, but are we able to detect them?

Fake news have caused much concern among Singaporeans over the years. The good news is; it may soon be a thing of the past.

On Apr 3, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam announced in Parliament that the government is reviewing ways to deter fake news, as the current laws are limited in dealing with the growing problem.

Currently, it is an offence under the Telecommunications Act to share a message that you know is false. Offenders can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for three years, or both.

What’s going on?

Fake news has become a global concern, especially with the rise in use of social media. For instance, before the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum period, false stories were published to mislead citizens.

In Singapore, the most prominent incident that made headlines was an article published by now-defunct The Real Singapore (TRS) in Feb 2015.

The article claimed that complaints by a Filipino family over noise caused a fight between the police and participants at a Thaipusam procession, which did not take place.

After a year of investigations, the editors of the socio-political website, Australian Ai Takagi and her Singaporean husband, Yang Kaiheng, were jailed for 10 months and eight months respectively for the published article and other seditious features.

bad-news-for-fake-news-1
FORMER TRS EDITOR AI TAKAGI AND CO-FOUNDER YANG KAIHENG CLOSED THE WEBSITE IN MAY 2015. PHOTO CREDIT: THE STRAITS TIMES (SCREENGRAB FROM THEREALSINGAPORE.COM)

In Parliament, Minister K. Shanmugam explained that a review of current laws on tackling fake news is required, as they can cause real and unnecessary harm to Singaporeans.

Singapore is not the only country reviewing laws to curb the spread of fake news. Germany just passed a bill in parliament today, which could force companies such as Facebook and Twitter to remove fake news, or face fines.

However, some people think that Singaporeans are capable of dealing with this issue on their own.

Fund accountant Tok Yi Xiang felt that most netizens are well-informed, and are able to identify fake news.

The 28-year-old said: “I don’t think Singaporeans are blind followers. They would be able to tell whether something is factual or not. They are well educated enough to [know the difference] between truth and lies, and there are multiple sources to check online.”

Tan Li Xuan, 21, felt that Singaporeans today are more careful with what they see online and will not believe something so easily.

The Nanyang Technological University student said: “I believe that users can deal with this issue themselves. I believe that more users are trained to be more cautious with what they see, and they probably would double check with multiple sources before believing it.”

However, others felt it was important for the government to intervene in this matter.

Joyce Wong, 22, felt that it is difficult to determine if a piece of news is authentic, despite being tech savvy.

The accounting student said: “The government should step in to handle this issue because we can never know how true a piece of news is, unless we have inside information. Such news…seem so real till we can’t differentiate, even though we may be more tech savvy.”

Likewise, Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Nitya Sabhnani, 19, felt that the issue of fake news may escalate, making it harder for us to control in the future.

The mass communication student said: “To stop false news from being a genuine problem in the future, it makes sense for the authorities to step in and set boundaries to maintain the harmony in the country.”

She added: “The real problem isn’t about how to stop fake news from spreading across platforms, but to stop it [from] being written in the first place.”

What’s your take? 

1. Do you think there should be laws to curb the spread of fake news? Why?


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