Singapore’s online falsehoods law: banking on tradition at a time of transition. Paper presented at International Workshop on “Fake News and State Control in the Post-Truth Era in Southeast Asia” at CSEAS, Kyoto University.
7 Pages Posted: 11 May 2022
Date Written: July 22, 2019
In May 2019, Singapore’s Parliament passed the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), probably the most elaborate legislation of its kind anywhere in the world. The law is remarkable for the degree of discretion it places in the hands of ministers, including the power to suppress and punish misinformation that ministers deem would hurt confidence in their work. POFMA follows the People’s Action Party (PAP) regime’s tradition of enacting laws that give cabinet maximum room for manoeuvre, enabling swift and decisive action unhindered by liberal democratic checks and balances. The new law is the strongest indication yet that the incumbents expect the incoming generation of PAP leaders to continue with the party’s authoritarian model. The debate preceding the passage of the POFMA bill, too, was symptomatic of PAP hegemony. The government marshalled the mainstream media to amplify its voice while muting criticisms of the bill. It also took a leaf from contemporary authoritarian populists’ methods—using majoritarian logic, nationalist rhetoric, online trolls and social media influencers to manage public opinion and marginalise critics. Nevertheless, POFMA was striking for the unprecedented degree of opposition it generated. These criticisms hint at a growing desire for political accountability, in lieu of the blank-cheque social contract that the PAP has traditionally banked on.
Keywords: online misinformation, regulation, censorship, authoritarianism
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