SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, AT THE SECOND READING OF THE PROTECTION FROM ONLINE FALSEHOODS AND MANIPULATION BILL IN PARLIAMENT
Mr Speaker Sir, in Chinese please.
I support this move to criminalise the creation and dissemination of falsehoods that would harm the public interest.
I would like to highlight two groups that are especially vulnerable to the effects of fake news—elderly and minorities.
Many elderly have gradually become accustomed to using Facebook and Whatsapp. But they are a lot less savvy when it comes to identifying and clarifying fake news, and understanding how photos and videos can be altered. They are inclined to take things they see on the internet at face value, especially information circulated by their friends.
Last year, there was a hoax which claimed that all senior citizens would get a free top up of $30 on their Ezlink cards at the community centres on 12 November.
The Ministry of Transport clarified that seniors have 10 months to apply for subsidies. But we still saw long lines at many CCs. Although we deployed staff to explain, many frail seniors still waited in line for a long time.
When staff sent me pictures of elderly lining up, some with canes or wheelchairs, it really pained me.
There are also other hoaxes that make the elderly worried about their CPF savings, saying the savings won’t be given in cash to their heirs. Even when they are clarified, the clarification doesn’t reach everyone and many elderly are still unnecessarily distressed.
And when the elderly are victims of fake news, for example when elderly stallholders are accused of selling contaminated food, they might not be notified promptly or might not know how to clarify online.
I don’t know why people would create fake news that targets old people. Don’t they have elderly parents and grandparents too? I hope with these new laws, we can stop the news from spreading, and punish such despicable people.
The other group that can be badly affected are minorities.
In many countries, fake news about minorities has led to attacks against them. Often this fake news comes from fake news factories abroad. Including in mature democracies like France, where the Roma people were attacked after rumours of them kidnapping children.
We know there are fake news factories in many Asian countries, so this could happen to us too.
Already, we see many hoaxes saying that halal-certified food is actually haram, spreading panic in the Muslim community.
Worse rumours could arise too. How will we enforce the law when falsehoods originate from overseas? Do we have agreements with other countries and tech companies to help us investigate and prosecute these criminals?
When fake news circulates, especially if it targets the elderly and minorities, we need to make sure the clarifications reach everyone. We’ll save these vulnerable groups plenty of heartache, and even prevent violence against them.
Therefore I agree with the idea of the government making a quick decision, to ask the tech companies to clarify or take down fake news. If we leave it to the courts or a committee, they will be comprised of generalists. To determine whether something is true or false, they have to get information from the Ministries anyway.
By the time the decision is made, maybe riots will have already broken out. Certainly the fake news would have spread far and wide.
Ministers’ decisions could be challenged in court. And they can be voted out if they make a decision that is obviously just to suppress critical opinions. Compare that to a committee that is appointed
and paid by the government, and gets most of its fact from the government, but cannot be voted out. Which one is more accountable?
My next question is, many residents have asked me, if they don’t know a story is false and forward it, what will happen to them?
Sir, Workers’ Party MPs have made much ado about the bill, claiming that it is an insidious attempt by the government to deter critics. They don’t seem to have read the bill, and have made a variety of misleading statements to fear monger on the bill. Mr Low claims that the bill gives the government absolute power. He completely overlooked and failed to address what the minister said yesterday, that the bill contains a narrower set of powers, which increase oversight for the court. What is his basis of saying the government is trying to increase its power? If the government is really as power hungry as Mr Low had described, why put forth a bill that’s more narrow instead? People can quickly and easily bring a challenge to the court, and the court can decide there is a false statement or fact. Why would a minister expose himself to a challenge he will lose?
Mr Low also gave misleading examples to claim the bill has an expansive scope which will affect Singaporean’s daily lives. He said that if a minister said the older generation cannot accept a non-Chinese as the Prime Minister, this will be an opinion, but if a political opponent says the same thing, a minister may use the bill against that opponent. Mr Low also suggested that the bill may be used against comments, for example the Pioneer and Merdeka packages are to buy votes. He is completely wrong. These examples Mr Low cited are all clear opinions. The Minister for Law clarified this yesterday, both in his speech and through the list of examples he circulated. If the government were to use the bill as the Worker’s Party alleges, do you think Singaporeans will take it lying down?
Mr Low should not mislead when the position in the bill is clear, he is trying to mislead people and create fear.
Mr Speaker Sir, I support the Bill wholeheartedly.
Watch the speech here
Watch Minister Shanmugam’s response here