Singapore Government Tests Out Its Fake News Law Against An Opposition Party Leader

from the who-didn't-see-this-coming dept

Singapore’s new “fake news” law has been deployed for the first time. The law the government is using to expand domestic surveillance and minimize dissent is definitely doing the latter. Bhavan Jaipragas reports the initial recipient of a “fake news” citation is none other than opposition leader Brad Bowyer.

The supposedly “fake” news Bowyer posted to Facebook has been subjected to government scrutiny. The government’s official rebuttal website — unbelievably named “Factually” — performs a point-by-point debunking of Bowyer’s claims using its own set of facts. This should have been enough. The Singaporean government wields a great deal of power. This site proves the government doesn’t need a fake news law, and yet it has one anyway, presumably because it provides so many side benefits.

Bowyer alleged the Singapore government controls or directs investment companies Temasek and GIC’s investment decisions. While it’s impossible to say for sure, there certainly is room for conjecture without sliding into “fake news.” Both are owned entirely by the Singapore government. Temasek officials have stated publicly the government is not consulted on “day-to-day business” but other companies have complained the government engages in opaque bidding processes that favor government-owned corporations and has displayed other forms of favoritism.

So, Bowyer’s implication could have been greeted by this response from the government and pointers to company statements to the contrary. Instead, it chose to invoke the law and issue a rebuttal — one aimed at political opposition that has not held any significant amount of power in more than 50 years.

Other things Bowyer implied were similarly uncontroversial. He suggested some bad investments had been made by the government. This seems like a normal thing for opposition government officials to do. But the Singapore government isn’t willing to be criticized without putting the force of law behind its response.

Fortunately, all the government ordered Bowyer to do is post a correction note on top of his original post with a link to the government’s site. It’s still government interference in political speech, but he wasn’t fined, forced to issue a retraction, or otherwise told to stop talking about government-linked corporations.

But that doesn’t make the law innocuous. The government has its own mouthpiece — the “Factually” section of the government’s website — to issue rebuttals and corrections. This makes the law extraneous. But the government likes the law because it allows the party in power — the one in power for decades — to more easily control the narrative. And it allows the government to control what’s seen online by turning service providers into extensions of its domestic surveillance programs.

This initial salvo may have been delivered with a light touch, but when things heat up around elections and the discussion of controversial legislation, expect the government’s blows to land with a little more force.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'No no, you're saying THIS now...'

Fortunately, all the government ordered Bowyer to do is post a correction note on top of his original post with a link to the government’s site.

‘All’ they had to do was post a link to the government’s official statements on the matter, turning their post into basically a wing of the government’s PR and muzzling them in the process. The fact that they didn’t face a fine or worse does not in any way make that a ‘light’ response.

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