- A new law has gone into effect in Singapore that aims to stop the spread of fake news by allowing members of the government to single-handedly decide what is and is not fake news and whether or not that content should be removed.
- Critics have argued that the law is a blatant attempt to suppress free speech and stifle political dissent ahead of an election.
- Big tech companies like Facebook and Google have also vocally opposed the law, and others have noted that one of the most concerning aspects is that it also applies to private messages sent on encrypted apps like WhatsApp.
- Now, individuals can face up to 10 years in jail for sharing whatever the government deems “false information.”
“Fake News” Law
A controversial bill widely known as the “fake news” law officially went into effect in Singapore Wednesday.
The new law will aim to stop the spread of disinformation, or fake news, in the city-state. The legislation, which is officially called the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, was passed by Singapore’s Parliament back in May.
According to reports, it will now be illegal to spread any “false statements of fact” that would potentially pose a threat to “public tranquility,” and the “friendly relations of Singapore with other countries.”
That may seem straightforward, but the law is controversial due to the fact that it gives government ministers the sole power to determine what is and is not fake news, with the threshold for determination also being quite low.
According to Channel News Asia, a minister simply needs to decide if something is a “falsehood,” which is defined as “a statement of fact that is false or misleading.”
Then, if that minister says it is in the public interest to take action against the “falsehood,” they can order whatever content they determine to be fake news to be taken down or have a correction put up next to it.
Government ministers can also force tech companies like Facebook and Google to block accounts or websites they say are spreading false information.
While the government has said that anyone impacted by the law can file an appeal and that the appeals process will be quick and cheap, the consequences of being found guilty of posting false information are extremely high.
Under the law, companies that are found guilty of spreading fake news can face fines up to $1 million in Singapore dollars—which is about $722,000 in U.S. dollars—while individuals who are found guilty can face up to 10 years in prison.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that the law is necessary “to hold online news sources and platforms accountable if they proliferate deliberate online falsehoods.”
“If we do not protect ourselves, hostile parties will find it a simple matter to turn different groups against one another and cause disorder in our society,” he added.
Free Speech Concerns
However, critics of the law have said that it is a clear attempt to stifle free speech and dissent, with many arguing that it gives way too much power and authority to the government without providing oversight for government abuse.
To that point, opponents have pointed to Singapore’s mixed record on protecting press freedoms and political dissent.
In the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 151 out of 180 countries for press freedoms, meaning Singapore was ranked in one of the worst positions for a country that considers itself a democracy.
Notably, that also placed it below countries that are well-known for censoring any kind of political opposition, like Russia and Myanmar.
As a result, the activists, experts, and rights groups who have openly criticized the law worry that it will be used as a political tool for censorship.
Speaking to CNN, the Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said the bill will be used for “political purposes,” noting that it comes right before elections set to happen in the next few months.
“The Singapore government has a long history of calling everything they disagree with as false and misleading,” he added.
“Singapore’s leaders have crafted a law that will have a chilling effect on internet freedom throughout south-east Asia, and likely start a new set of information wars as they try to impose their narrow version of ‘truth’ on the wider world,” Robertson wrote in a tweet Wednesday.
The International Commission of Jurists, a group of judges and lawyers, also echoed Robertson’s sentiment in a statement before the law passed, where they argued that the law would create “a real risk that the law will be misused to clamp down on opinions or information critical of the government.”
Even members of Parliament have spoken out against the bill, arguing it is an overextension of government power.
“To introduce such a bill is not what the government claims to defend democracy and public interest, it is more like the actions of a dictatorial government that will resort to any means to hold on to absolute power,” opposition lawmaker Low Thia Khiang said before the bill’s passage in May.
Tech Companies Opposition
Others have also argued the law will give Singapore too much power over big tech firms that have a large presence in Singapore. For example, Facebook, Twitter, and Google all have their Asian headquarters in the city-state.
“This law would give Singapore overwhelming leverage over the likes of Facebook and Twitter to remove whatever the government determines is ‘misleading,’” Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia Nicholas Bequelin said in a statement.
“This is an alarming scenario. While tech firms must take all steps to make digital spaces safe for everyone, this does not provide governments an excuse to interfere with freedom of expression— or rule over the news feed,” he added.
Google and Facebook both opposed the law when it was being debated in Parliament. After it was passed, Google said that the law will “hurt innovation and the growth of the digital information ecosystem.”
Others have also noted that one of the most concerning parts so the law is that it does not just apply to posts made publicly on Facebook or Twitter but that it can be applied to closed private messaging apps and chat groups like WhatsApp, which is extremely popular in Singapore.
That, in turn, means the government can not only read its citizen’s private messages but also potentially jail them for up to 10 years for content sent privately, maybe even to just one other person.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (VICE) (The Guardian)
California Lawmakers Pass Bill Protecting Children From Manipulative Tech Companies
The bill’s proponents liken it to other consumer welfare rules like nutrition standards and car seats, but opponents warn it could endanger users’ privacy.
The First State Children’s Code in the Country
California state senators passed a bipartisan bill Monday that would require online sites and apps to proactively design their products with child safety in mind.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has not voiced his opinion on the bill, but if he signs it into law, it will make California the first state to implement legislation of its kind in the country.
AB 2273, the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act, does not give many specific directions to tech companies, but it may create the potential for legal challenges if they don’t take adequate steps to ensure the safety of their younger users.
Some of the bill’s measures intend to block minors from viewing explicit content, limit the collection of their personal information, and restrict web services from gathering children’s geolocation data unless “strictly necessary.”
The law would also clamp down on “dark patterns,” a general term for manipulative design features meant to encourage minors to give away personal information unnecessarily.
“The digital ecosystem is not safe by default for children,” democratic state lawmaker Buffy Wicks, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Jordan Cunningham, told The New York Times. “We think the Kids’ Code, as we call it, would make tech safer for children by essentially requiring these companies to better protect them.”
AB 2273 forces web services to enable the highest privacy settings by default for minors.
Additionally, it requires services to establish the age of child users with a “reasonable level of certainty.”
If signed, the law would go into effect in 2024.
Are the Internet’s ‘Wild West’ Days Over?
California could set the example for other states, or the federal government, to build digital guardrails for minors, and tech companies may find it easier to proactively update their child protections across the country to avoid the difficulty of enforcing different policies in different states.
Another bill, AB 2408, which would let parents sue social media companies over addictive features, failed to pass the California legislature earlier this month.
The United States already has a 1998 federal law that protects children’s privacy, but it only applies to those under 13 years of age and only when they use online services specifically targeting children.
AB 2273 was based on similar legislation passed last year in the United Kingdom, the “Children’s Code,” which created comprehensive safety standards for minors, such as preventing adult strangers from contacting them or disabling social media features that could show a child’s exact location on a map to other users.
Baroness Beeban Kidron, a key figure behind the U.K. law, leads a nonprofit that sponsored AB 2273. He and other advocates have compared the law to nutrition labels, testing for cribs and car seats, and similar consumer welfare regulations.
The bill, however, has its detractors.
Eric Goldman, a professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law, has argued that AB 2273’s age verification requirements, though well-intentioned, could become intrusive on the very users whose privacy the bill is seeking to safeguard.
“The actual process of age authentication usually involves either (1) an interrogation of personal details or (2) evaluating the user’s face so that software can estimate the age,” Goldman wrote in an op-ed. “Neither process is error-free, and either imposes costs that some businesses can’t afford.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (The Verge)
Shane Dawson Says Cancellation Felt Planned By The Universe
The YouTuber said that by being forced to take a digital break, he had a chance to step back and “see what the bigger purpose is.”
Dawson Speaks Out
Two years after facing intense backlash online, YouTuber Shane Dawson said he found a positive side to being “canceled.”
In the summer of 2020, Dawson faced intense scrutiny after people resurfaced his old controversial videos where he wore blackface, made racist jokes, and said inappropriate remarks about children. He lost a slew of subscribers as a result and stepped away from YouTube for over a year following the scandal.
Dawson has since returned to posting, sharing long-form content every few months on his channel to millions of viewers, though his audience is not nearly as large as it was before the backlash. He also started a podcast earlier this year.
While speaking on Perez Hilton’s podcast this week, Dawson said his cancellation actually came at a time when he needed to rethink his life online.
“I really think the universe and God, or whatever, really planned it this way because I was at a point before I got canceled where I didn’t wanna be around anymore,” Dawson said. “I was so burnt out.”
“Wait, you were so burnt out that you were depressed and suicidal?” Hilton followed up. “Just from overworking?”
“Well it wasn’t just from overworking,” Dawson added. “It was, well, I’m a workaholic.”
Cancelation “Felt Very Designed”
Dawson went on to explain that being a workaholic opened the doors for other issues, like fearing he will lose his success, getting stressed about his online reputation, worrying about spending enough time with family, and negative thoughts about his body image. As all this started to take a toll on him, he started therapy. Not long after, he started dealing with his 2020 controversies.
“Oddly enough, two months after I started therapy, maybe even sooner, I got canceled,” Dawson said. “And it was like, ‘oh.’ That felt very designed to me, by something.”
“Because I was like, okay, she’s learning about everything, all my issues, all this, all that, and my biggest fear is being canceled again and it happened,” he continued. “So now I can see what the bigger purpose is.”
Now he says he is grateful to be at a point where he is not constantly worried about making content and pleasing people. Dawson said that earlier in his career, his need to be liked was so severe that he would message people who said negative things about him online in an effort to change their minds.
“It’s always that thing where like, I want people that hate me to like me. Which is toxic,” Dawson explained. “Like a hater would say something, and I’ll DM them, this is something I’d do years ago, I’d DM them and talk to them and then, ‘oh, they like me now!’ It was dark.”
Monica Lewinsky Asks Beyoncé to Change “Partition” Lyric Amid “Renaissance” Edits
The 2013 song includes the phrase “he Monica Lewinsky’d all on my gown.”
Monica Lewinsky’s Request
Monica Lewinsky suggested that Beyoncé remove a lyric from her 2013 song “Partition” that references the infamous scandal involving the former White House intern and then-President Bill Clinton.
The request came as Beyoncé’s representatives confirmed she would be removing an ableist lyric from a track off her latest album “Renaissance.” The song “Heated” used the word “spaz,” which many disability advocates have condemned as an offensive slur.
Earlier this year, Lizzo removed the same word from her song “Grrrls” after facing backlash. On Monday, a spokesperson for Beyoncé said that while the word was “not used intentionally in a harmful way,” it “will be replaced.”
Lewinsky shared that news Monday on Twitter and added, “uhmm, while we’re at it… #Partition.”
In “Partition,” the Grammy winner sings the phrase “he Monica Lewinsky’d all on my gown.”
Response From the Beyhive
The Beyhive was quick to call Lewinsky out for her plea, arguing that the song has been out for nearly a decade and she could have brought her complaint up sooner. Some said she was in no place to be upset with the lyric as she has the phrase “rap song muse” in her Twitter bio.
Lewinsky issued replies to many of these complaints on Tuesday, saying this is not the first time she publicly addressed “Partition,” and the numerous other songs referencing her. Regarding her Twitter bio, she said she uses humor to cope with the public scandal.
When people continued to accuse her of singling out Beyoncé when there are dozens of artists who have written similar lyrics, Lewinsky said, “when articles about the 125+ other artists changing lyrics to a song cross my TL, i promise i’ll do the same.”
Lewinsky’s request prompted frustration from people who felt that by changing the ableist lyric in “Heated,” Beyoncé inadvertently opened a door for people to pressure her into tweaking other songs.
“Heated” is not the only track off of “Renaissance” that has had to return to the cutting room since the album’s release. Beyoncé also removed an interpolation of the Kelis song “Milkshake” after Kelis spoke out against its use and called it “theft.”
Neither Beyoncé nor her team has publicly responded to Lewinksy. In a tweet, Lewinsky said she had not privately reached out to the singer to sort the issue behind closed doors.