Kirsten Han 韩俐颖
Mon Apr 01 12:23:38 +0000 2019

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill gives any Minister discretion to order corrections/takedowns/block access. You can’t appeal to High Court until appeal to the Minister is rejected, and the court can only overturn the decision in limited circumstances.

Unlike what the mainstream media reports are saying (looking at you CNA and TODAY), this law is *not* like the legislation in France or Germany. This law is frighteningly broad and gives government ministers—any Minister—so much power.

Ahead of elections (before the writ of election is issued), Ministers can appoint an “alternate authority”. And according to the Bill, “the powers of the Minister... may, during an election period, be exercised by the alternate authority appointed by the respective Minister”.

So Ministers can appoint “alternate authority” who can exercise powers of correction/takedown/blocking access during election period (incumbent Ministers will be candidates then). By the time anyone appeals to the High Court, elections are over. What could possibly go wrong?

This @STcom piece is basically a rehash of embargoed press release content from the Ministry of Law sent out earlier today. That’s why I encourage everyone to read the actual Bill, rather than mainstream media coverage:

Any Minister can order content to be corrected/removed/access blocked, if they think it’s in the public interest to do so. Definition of “public interest” includes “friendly relations” with other countries, preventing “diminution of public confidence” in the government.

This is the bit of the Bill on appointing “alternate authority” for the election period that I mentioned in previous tweets higher up in this thread. #Singapore #fakenews #freespeech #censorship

The Bill says “a statement is false if it is false or misleading, whether wholly or in part...” At this point, reminder that PAP last year labelled @hrw’s report a “deliberate falsehood”: Under this Bill, that’s a S$500k fine, sorry @Reaproy

Okay, now for some practical application questions: Since the ministers have the discretion to order corrections, does the government get to dictate the correction? In 1987, govt detained w/o trial activists/lawyers/social workers and accused them of a Marxist Conspiracy...

...but no evidence was produced to back that up. Today ex-detainees and many others call that accusation a massive state-sponsored case of #fakenews. Can a minister order that articles about 1987 be corrected to say that there *was* a Marxist Conspiracy, ‘cos govt said so?

Last year, a PAP MP claimed my friends and I asked Malaysian PM to interfere in SG politics (we did no such thing), and claimed my colleague @pjthum “does not wish Singapore well”. This was amplified by the law minister himself. See: >>>

So, to which Minister should I apply to get a correction listed next to PAP’s smear campaign, or for the baseless claims to be removed entirely? You are where I’m going with this? What avenues do private citizens have when it’s the powerful who are the perpetrators?

The Education Minister has said that there is no discrimination against LGBT people in Singapore, despite mountains of testimony collected by LGBT groups. Are LGBT sites going to be “corrected” under this Bill?


Okay, I'm just going to come back to this thread I tweeted at the beginning of the week and keep adding to it so it's a neat little chronology of my thoughts on this Bill that just seems more and more horrific the more I think about it.

Since the first explosion of backlash against the state overreach proposed in the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, the PAP government has been on the defensive trying to rebut the criticism and assure Singaporeans it's no big deal.

K Shanmugam, who is both Law and Home Affairs Minister, put out this video explaining that POFMA will only affect statements of fact, and insisting that the government will not be the final arbiter of truth. Note the specific use of the word "final".

The Ministry of Law also has this fairytale idea that it's the most "cost effective" to do things this way—let the Minister issue an executive direction first, then go to the court later if you're not happy about it.

Sure, under the Bill the govt is not the *final* arbiter of truth—there's the option of going to the High Court. But you have to first comply with the Minister's order, and then appeal to the same Minister who issued the order. Only if he rejects you, then you can go to court.

And going to the High Court is not a cheap excursion. A lawyer interviewed in this piece thinks it could cost S$5,000–S$20,000 to file a case. 😱 That's to file a case—it doesn't include the costs that could be ordered against you if you lose.

How many people will opt to do this? Even if you think you did nothing wrong, how many would fork out thousands of $$$ to fight for an FB post/tweet/blog/article reinstated, likely months after you were already made to remove it, or declare publicly that you posted "fake news"?

Going to the High Court is an option. But it's likely not a *realistic* option for most. So while the govt might not be the final arbiter of truth as stated in law, they're the arbiters in the 1st and 2nd instance, and realistically that's as far as most of us are going to go.

Also, the point about this law only applying to "false statements of fact". How is that defined, you ask? Take a look at the Bill: "a statement is false if it is false or misleading..." thanks bro that clears it right up

Last year I wrote for @esquiresg about migrant labour and how NGOs see workers who fulfill #trafficking indicators: The Ministry of Manpower said "this cannot be true" (see 👇). Under this Bill, the Minister could make Esquire "correct" or retract.

@esquiresg My piece for @LowyInstitute on POFMA: "there are fears that this Bill will be one of the Singapore government’s greatest lever of control over public discourse yet."

There’s a petition against POFMA that’s floating around online (although the take-up is kind of slow):