Wednesday, 21 June 2017

New laws against fake news to be introduced in 2018: Shanmugam

Laws to tackle fake news likely out next year
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2017

New legislation to tackle fake news is in the works, and can be expected to be introduced next year.

The move, announced by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday, follows his parliamentary statement in April that current laws for dealing with such falsehoods are limited.

Singapore officials had been to Europe, visiting Germany and Britain, to study measures these countries have taken or are planning to take to counter fake news, he said.

Consultations with stakeholders on the pending laws will be held in the second half of this year, he added.

Mr Shanmugam was speaking at the start of a two-day conference on fake news, Keep It Real: Truth And Trust In The Media, organised by The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

Citing a survey of 1,617 Singapore residents conducted last month, he said that 91 per cent of them supported stronger laws to ensure fake news is removed or corrected.

Later, elaborating on the prospective legislation, he told reporters: "We know what the end point should be. It should be to de-legitimise fake news, help people identify what is and what is not fake news, and to deal with the perpetrators of fake news."

Shanmugam sets out strategies in battle against fake news
Media literacy must be strengthened even as S'pore prepares new laws, he says
By Seow Bei Yi and Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2017

The battle against fake news needs to be fought on several fronts.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam made the point yesterday as he underlined the importance of strengthening media literacy, even as Singapore prepares to introduce new legislation next year to curb fabricated stories.

He, however, felt platforms like Google and Twitter "bear significant responsibility" in tackling inappropriate content, including fake news, while the media plays a key role in being a trusted source of news.

Mr Shanmugam set out these battlefronts in his opening address at a conference on fake news, at which he announced pending laws against such falsehoods. The two-day forum is organised by The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

To help shape the new laws, Singapore officials visited Germany and Britain. Germany proposed laws in April to punish social networking sites if they do not swiftly remove content such as hate speech or defamatory fake news.

In Britain, a parliamentary committee had been looking into online fake news, and whether new laws should be created to hold social networks responsible for inappropriate content.

But beyond laws, Mr Shanmugam told reporters, "the key is to build a more resilient society, a society that can pick up and understand what is fake".

"In that context, education is extremely important. And also the ability of civil society, people, to respond to fake news," he said.

The Education Ministry and Ministry of Communications and Information will help ramp up media literacy in the population, he added.

For the media, he said it is important to ensure journalism standards are robust as its role as a trusted news source is being challenged.

Meanwhile, firms like Google and Twitter have made a commitment to tackle misinformation, such as by removing hate speech, he added.

But the Government still has a key role to play, he said, noting: "It must stand ready to deal with misinformation that impacts society."

"Echo chambers" online amplify the negative impact of false narratives, and with 91 per cent of Singapore residents surveyed last month supporting stronger laws to remove or correct fake news, legislative action "seems a no-brainer", he said.

Highlighting that misinformation can be used to spread hate or used for profit, Mr Shanmugam stressed that Singapore remains "particularly vulnerable" to foreign influences harnessing fake news for their own ends.

The country also faces the risk of misinformation exploiting racial and religious fault lines, and rumours on social media and communication platforms like WhatsApp that confuse and promote distrust.

"If the distrust becomes deep rooted, people will have serious doubts about institutions, about governance, and you then get a fractured polity," he said.

The need for education and trust was also raised at a panel discussion.

Crucial steps must be taken to educate people and build up trust in the country's media, said Associate Professor Eugene Tan, a Singapore Management University law don.

The panel, on truth and trust in the digital age, was moderated by The Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of the English, Malay and Tamil Media Group at Singapore Press Holdings.

Prof Tan said: "It is important that regulation must not weaken the ability of any society to be able to discern for themselves. Governments cannot do the thinking for the people."

With fake news here to stay, people need to be taught how to react to attempts at misinformation, said the panellists.

"Governments always believe in their ability to do wonders... but we should bear in mind that there are inherent limits to what they can do when it comes to fake news," said Prof Tan.

The two other panellists - Ms Maria A. Ressa, chief executive officer of Manila-based online news site Rappler, and Mr Jason Subler, a managing editor of Reuters - also stressed that governments cannot fight fake news alone. Equipping people with media literacy skills must be a key strategy, they said.

Another tactic is to strengthen confidence in the media, they added, as plummeting trust in traditional media has driven people to look for news on alternative platforms that may carry information that is untrue or erroneous.

Misinformation can fan flames of Islamophobia globally: Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 20 Jun 2017

An unassuming video of a cheering crowd provoked an uproar two years ago, following claims that it showed Muslims celebrating the 2015 terror attacks in Paris.

It went viral on social media, racking up 500,000 views in two hours.

But it was, in fact, a video of people celebrating Pakistan's victory in a cricket match.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam gave the example yesterday at a forum on fake news to illustrate how misinformation has helped fan the flames of Islamophobia around the world. "There have been many attempts to use online misinformation to smear Muslims as a group, and turn non-Muslims against Muslims," he said.

This is done by people who are Islamophobic, as well as those seeking to make the Muslim community more exclusivist, such as radicals who want to turn other communities against moderate Muslims, and nudge these moderates towards more extreme ideologies.

Misinformation can play a part in silencing moderates, the minister noted at the conference organised by The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. He highlighted a photograph of Muslims protesting against the attack on London Bridge earlier this year, which was later taken out of context by hate-mongers, who claimed it was staged.

"It discredited the moderate Muslims, who wanted to step forward, and made them a target of attacks, so that in future, moderate Muslims will not hold their head high and stand up," said Mr Shanmugam.

There have been attacks around the world motivated by hate speech and religious divides, he noted.

"Locally, we have managed to integrate more successfully than many other countries. But that does not mean we are immune to such attacks," he said. "We are vulnerable - not just us, but every society - to misinformation that exploits racial and religious divides."

Fake information has been used to stoke anti-foreigner sentiments as well, he noted, citing an article by The Real Singapore in 2015 that claimed a Filipino family had caused an incident between police and participants of a Thaipusam procession. "We have to try and stop and deal with the attacks that try to spread hate and xenophobia here," Mr Shanmugam said.

Governments strike back with rebuttals and new laws
By Tham Yuen-C, Assistant Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 25 Jun 2017

Any information about the Central Provident Fund, which holds the retirement savings of Singaporeans, is sure to attract attention - and now, fake news perpetrators.

Earlier this month, a message on WhatsApp, SMS and social media falsely warned: "Everybody please note that when we kick the bucket, all our balance CPF money will not be automatically deposited into our nominated NOK (next of kin) bank account in cash."

It claimed that the CPF Board would instead transfer the balance funds to a nominee's CPF Medisave account, which is restricted in use to medical expenses.

As the message spread, the Government swung into action to debunk it. An explanation was posted on government website Factually: "What happens to your CPF savings when you die? By default, the money will be given to your nominees in cash via cheque or Giro."

The site, set up in 2012, is one of the ways the Government is tackling phoney news and misinformation that mislead people and could potentially harm the social fabric.

Over the years, it has countered inaccurate assertions on issues such as the water price hike and what ministers reportedly said.

With the rise of fake news, governments have set up services and departments to counter it. The Czech Republic, for instance, has formed a special media unit under its Interior Ministry that is charged with debunking false reports, in order to counter interference in the upcoming general election in October.


But as governments around the world recognise that bogus information must be actively fought, more are looking to legislation and regulation as more effective weapons.

Singapore is among a handful of countries to announce plans for new laws to curb fabricated stories.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam said last week at The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers conference on fake news that officials here have visited Germany and Britain to help shape new legislation to be introduced next year.

Germany has unveiled a landmark Bill to take social networking sites to task - with fines of up to €50 million (S$78 million) - if they do not swiftly remove content that is fake, defamatory or incites hate.

Britain has set up a parliamentary committee to look into the matter.

One difficulty is how such laws can be implemented. "It is not only difficult to define 'fake news' in a consistent manner, the varying context in different countries may cause confusion and conflict," said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan at a forum workshop during the conference.

Other participants said governments themselves are sometimes part of the fake news problem and cannot be both "the judge and the jury".

Ms Maria Ressa, chief executive officer of Manila-based online news site Rappler, told a panel the Philippine government sometimes allowed inaccurate news reports to spread when they served its purposes.

Associate Professor Tan suggested setting up independent regulatory bodies that are not tied to the interests of big corporations or the state and could be objective.

Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez said governments can make a difference by safeguarding the media landscape against those who seek to exploit readers for profit, out of mischief or for political gain. He noted that efforts by Mr Shanmugam to expose those behind sites like The Real Singapore, which routinely put out fake news for profit and make it a point to undermine mainstream media, have raised awareness about the issue and helped people become more critical of what they read.

Mr Fernandez added: "But I'm also conscious of the points made by many about how in some cases abroad, when governments try to be part of the solution, they sometimes can end up being part of the problem."


Around the world, independent fact-checking organisations have sprung up to fight the problem. In the recent British elections, two such organisations, Full Fact and First Draft, started an initiative to educate voters about fraudulent news, with fact-checkers scanning the Internet for reports with misleading claims and debunking them, reported The Guardian.

According to the Duke Reporters' Lab at Duke University in the United States, there are around 114 such groups globally today.

And while some are attached to news organisations, others are set up by non-profit organisations.

Forum panellist Karolin Schwarz, founder of, which seeks to debunk rumours about migrants, said collaboration between journalists and fact-checking organisations is crucial.

In Germany where she comes from, fake news is not as common as falsehoods circulated on social media, such as falsely attributed photos, videos and quotes. Hence, she said, it is important to work with local agencies and others to verify the truth.

Weak spot in the battle - the elderly who spread the gossip
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Sunday Times, 25 Jun 2017

Less than a year ago, concerted efforts to spread fake news were a relatively unheard-of phenomenon.

But today, the problem has become so prevalent that a whole industry has sprung up to combat it.

From new laws to compel social media platforms to take down fake viral posts to citizen groups combating online inaccuracies with Facebook comments and blogs of their own, the world is trying to find a solution to the scourge.

While the Government and tech companies have substantial power to stem the flow of fake news, increasingly, citizen groups and media outlets are stepping up to do their part.

However, one group of people in Singapore has left members of the local Media Literacy Council (MLC) scratching their heads on how to help them: the elderly.

This group may no longer be the digitally clueless caricatures of the past, with many owning smartphones and active on social media.

Yet many from this group, MLC head Lock Wai Han says, are guilty of propagating unverified information, such as political gossip or dubious health tips on social platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, with just a tap of a button.

Worse, their social media "shares" may not be addressed by those who know better, leaving such posts to be consumed by those who don't - propagating a vicious circle.

The Asian tendency to defer to one's elders, even if they are spreading wrong information, may be to blame here.

As frustrated university student Angela Teo, 21, put it: "No one wants to be the person who calls out your aunt about the gossip she's passing off as news in the family WhatsApp group."

Even if one is not bound by propriety, not every elderly person has a grandchild or child to point out the inaccuracies in his latest snippet.


Regardless of one's age, there are many reasons that fake news is so hard to stamp out.

At a conference organised by The Straits Times and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers last week, one of the panels sought to discuss ways to empower citizens against fake news.

Ms Nejolla Korris, who heads InterVeritas International, which specialises in social-engineering awareness and lie-detection training, said it was important to get people who enjoy sharing fake news - perhaps for the sheer entertainment value - on the side of the truth.

But how? Straits Times associate opinion editor Lydia Lim told the forum that journalists ought to do more to get people to understand good media values like those practised in traditional media.

"We don't want to just be first with the news, but also fair and accurate," she said. "These are values that aren't discussed much, and our readers may not even be aware that that is how we do things."

For starters, media outlets can "train" their readers to be more questioning by reminding them of a few questions they should consider before they share anything they come across in social media.

These questions, Ms Lim said, include figuring out who's saying what, and why, and who stands to benefit from a particular piece of news. "It's the old dictum of 'following the money'," she said.

Indeed, news organisations are increasingly seeing the importance of educating their readers.

Earlier this year, the University of the Philippines launched an online educational television network to fight disinformation, some of which is said to come from the country's colourful President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Straits Times also announced last week that readers can send in queries about reports, photos or videos they find dubious to its AskST platform, which its journalists would then investigate, as part of the paper's efforts to educate people and counter fake news.

It may also feature reports debunking misinformation on health issues in its Mind & Body pages to help readers make sense of the many stories on healthcare products and practices they receive through social media.

Asia News Network, a regional media alliance comprising 22 newspapers, including The Straits Times, is also working on a checklist for journalists and readers to spot tell-tale signs of stories with dubious content. Among other things, it will also compile a list of known sites that regularly spread such false information.


Education continues on other fronts too.

French daily Le Monde launched an initiative earlier this year that sees its journalists volunteering at schools, teaching teenagers how to distinguish between real and fabricated news.

At the conference, Ms Anne Kruger, a journalism lecturer at Hong Kong University, suggested that media literacy classes be made mandatory so that children, who are exposed to online resources and social media at an increasingly young age, are armed with the skills to verify what is true or false.

At home, the MLC is working with the Info-communications and Media Development Authority of Singapore to roll out campaigns on media literacy in the heartland.

But the MLC's Mr Lock acknowledged that when it comes to the elderly, it takes patience: "We need to take things one step at a time."

MP Zaqy Mohamad, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee on Communications and Information, said one way to fight fake news put forward by older relatives is to take it offline.

"Do it at the dinner table. Raise the issue with humour, defuse it, correct the falsehood with the facts gently," he said.

"It's about building a culture where people aren't afraid to step in and say, 'Hey, the things you're sharing may cause panic, and here's why'."

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