Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Singapore — A Singapore parliamentary committee said on Thursday the government should consider legislation to ensure that technology companies rein in online fake news and punish culprits.

The committee, set up to make recommendations to fight "deliberate online falsehoods", said steps were needed as companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter had "a policy of generally not acting against" content known to be false.

"I think there is increasing recognition on all sides that there has to be responsibility on the part of tech companies and that governments have to intervene to ensure that responsibility," said law minister and panel member K Shanmugam.

The government’s response to recommendations had to be "urgent and serious".

The law and communications ministries said the government accepted the recommendations in principle, and would work with stakeholders to adopt legislative and other measures in the next few months.

Tech companies′ concern

Global tech companies have expressed concern about Singapore’s plans to bring in new laws to tackle fake news, saying sufficient rules are already in place.

Google said on Thursday it took "the issue of false information seriously". Twitter said it cared "deeply" about misinformation" and the "potentially harmful effects on the civic and political discourse".

Singapore’s efforts against fake news and the spread of false information online mirror those in various countries amid questions about the influence of internet companies and influence of foreign entities in domestic political processes.

Neighbouring Malaysia’s opposition-led senate blocked an effort to repeal a law against fake news this month, presenting the first big challenge for the new government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging platform published advertisements in Indian newspapers in July to tackle the spread of misinformation there, its first such effort to combat a flurry of fake messages that prompted mob lynchings.

The Singapore committee’s long report also said criminal sanctions should be imposed on "perpetrators" of "deliberate online falsehoods".

There should be a "threshold of serious harm such as election interference, public disorder, and the erosion of trust in public institutions".