Facebook Whistleblower Testifies Before 'Grand Committee On Disinformation'; Which Includes Countries That Lock People Up For Criticizing The Gov't

from the sure-that's-wise? dept

It didn't get as much press as some of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen's other high profile talks to government inquisitors, but last week, Haugen testified before the rather Orwellian International Grand Committee on Disinformation. This is a bizarre "committee" set up by regulators around the world, but its focus -- and its members -- are kind of notable. Considering that tons of evidence shows that cable news is a much larger vector of disinformation flows to the general public, it seems notable that the "International Grand Committee on Disinformation" seems to only want to pay attention to online disinformation. I mean, it's right in the group's mission:

The rapid, unregulated expansion of social media is causing lasting harm to the world’s societies and democracies. So long as the technology giants who own these platforms are permitted to put profits ahead of people, malevolent actors will continue to be able to use social media to spread disinformation, spew hate, and disrupt elections.

Hmm. Only online? Only social media? No traditional media? No cable news? How... interesting.

Ah, but it gets even more interesting. Because the International Grand Committee on Disinformation this time included Singapore Parliamentarians who were very excited to show how bad social media is.

Amidst growing international convergence on the need to regulate the internet to protect vulnerable communities from online harms, two Singapore Members of Parliament participated in the fifth meeting of the International Grand Committee on Disinformation (IGC5) in Brussels, Belgium on 9 November 2021. They were Ms Sim Ann, Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, and Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Development; and Ms Rahayu Mahzam, Member of Parliament for Jurong GRC, and Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Communications and Information and Ministry of Health. Ms Sim and Ms Rahayu are also the co-leads of Singapore’s Sunlight Alliance for Action

Great. Great. The readout from these Singaporean Parliamentarians made it clear that they are very, very concerned:

The key themes of this year’s IGC meeting were (i) COVID-19 misinformation and (ii) online hate directed towards historically marginalised groups.

They also note that it's clear that Facebook must be regulated:

There was a clear consensus among the participants that self-regulation by social media companies has not been effective, and regulation is necessary. There was also general endorsement of Singapore’s position that beyond regulation, multi-pronged, multi-stakeholder approaches such as the Sunlight Alliance for Action were necessary to combat online harms effectively.

Oh, great. So, let's see, how is Singapore fighting disinformation again? Oh, right, by jailing anyone who criticizes the Singaporean government.

In 2019, Singapore "regulated disinformation" online with its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA). And how exactly has that worked there? According to Human Rights Watch, it's been a total disaster for free speech and has been used against opposition politicians and critics of the government:

Ministers issued several correction notices to opposition politicians or political parties during the nine-day election campaign in July.

Singapore authorities also use existing laws to penalize peaceful expression and protest, with activists, lawyers, and online media facing prosecution, civil defamation suits, and threats of contempt of court charges. In March, the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction of activist Jolovan Wham for contempt of court for stating on Facebook that “Malaysia’s judges are more independent than Singapore’s for cases with political implications.”

On July 28, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s nephew, Li Shengwu, was found guilty of contempt and fined S$15,000 (US$11,000) for a 2017 private Facebook post in which he said the Singapore government is “very litigious and has a pliant court system.”

Ah. Notably, while opposition party members kept getting notices about how they violated the law, the ruling party politicians were somehow free of such notices. How odd.

This same "regulation" against "disinformation" was used to block access to a website criticizing the Singaporean government's response to COVID.

So, yeah, sure, we can highlight the problems of misinformation online, but it's difficult to take the "International Grand Committee on Disinformation" particularly seriously when its members include nations that are using "disinformation" regulations as an excuse to suppress opposition political parties and those who criticize the government. It kind of undermines any credibility such a group might have.

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Filed Under: disinformation, fake news, frances haugen, international grand committee on disinformation, singapore
Companies: facebook


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2021 @ 10:41am

    i love how "profits ahead of people" is only bad in one sector at this particular time only, and where most of the problem is "unregulated" individual people speaking.


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