Dear, privacy pros.
I trust that you had a great time spending the remainder of 2019 with your loved ones. It has been relatively quiet on the privacy news front in Asia-Pacific since my last update in mid-December.
There is an interesting string of reports out of Singapore on the debate over the use of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, which came into effect 2 Oct. 2019.
The office that oversees POFMA has issued four separate correction directions since November 2019. Not surprisingly, all have been issued in respect of critical articles originating from opposition politicians or parties (Brad Bowye/Progress Singapore Party, Singapore Democratic Party and Lim Tean/People’s Voice), as well as an Australian-based anti-PAP blogger (Alex Tan/States Times Review). Alex Tan has refused to comply with the correction direction issued against the States Times Review. The Singapore government subsequently issued a correction direction compelling Facebook to carry a notice at the end of the article, which is being hosted on its platform. However, there are indications the States Times Review will challenge the correction direction, and, if so, it may be the first time that the application of the POFMA will be heard in court.
To be clear, a correction direction only requires the recipient to place a notice at the top of an article that has been determined to contain false statements and include a link to the government’s Factually website. The article remains accessible, and it is up to the reader to decide which account is more credible. The Singapore government says this proves POFMA is not being used as a censorship tool and merely implements the government’s right of reply in this digital age when viral online falsehoods or “fake news” could quickly destroy the social fabric of a nation and cause significant harm in the real world. The alternative total take-down approach would be far more offensive to the right of free speech.
A number of critics have questioned the application of the POFMA in cases in which the facts conveyed may come down to a question of interpretation. There is also a concern the act could have a chilling effect on public debate, particularly as Singapore gears up for the next general election. Perhaps some, if not all, of these criticisms can be addressed by having an independent third party be the arbiter of falsehoods that need to be addressed under the law. It is interesting to note that POFMA already includes provisions for an alternate authority to be appointed during an election period, as well as for other periods.
If you still hunger for more after reading this introduction and the articles on this week’s dashboard, you may wish to check out our podcasts.
With that, I wish you a wonderful start to the new decade. Happy reading (and listening) in 2020!
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