- 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)
Today in Awesome: Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Possible Return and Ways to Help Students
Happy Tuesday! Here are some awesome stories that you should know about today, from potential TV show reboots to organizations doing important work for students.
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Drama Reboot
The first bit of awesome is the news around a “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”
reboot. Back in March 2019, independent filmmaker Morgan Cooper released this mock-trailer for a re-imagined dramatic take on the popular TV show.
Check out the trailer for yourself because reading about it doesn’t do Cooper’s work the justice it deserves.
According to Hollywood Reporter, the video caught the attention of Will Smith, who then approached Cooper and Universal TV (they own the rights to the show) and got them on board for the drama reboot. The current working name for the project is “Bel-Air.”
The project is still in its early stages, being shopped to streaming services such as HBO and Netflix. HBO Max is where “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” currently resides, although it currently up in the air if that will make any difference in negotiations.
Currently, there is no official date for when the project is expected to officially begin.
Organizations That Fight the Digital Divide
Then let’s talk about some organizations doing good. Despite indications that students are susceptible to COVID-19, schools across the nation have plans to reopen classrooms.
Currently, 12 out of 15 of the largest school districts across the country will be doing school remotely. However, unfortunately, many students affected by the decision experience the “digital divide,” a term used to describe the vast disparity between students who have access to tech and those who don’t.
About 9 million children are expected to have difficulty completing assignments online because of bad internet, while 14% of children are thought to have no internet access at home.
But there are organizations working to combat this issue, particularly during the pandemic, where students are more likely to need at-home internet and access to devices that can be used for at-home school work.
One organization catching attention is EveryoneOn, which works to get brands to offer low-cost data and internet for those who need it, while also trying to connect low-income families with those brands.
Community vs. Covid-19 does similar work and is currently raising $20,000 to give devices to students who are in need. They also provide a way for people to set up their own campaigns to try and raise money to help their communities, many of which have raised thousands on their own.
If you have the ability to donate, check out their websites.
Twitter Considers Subscription Models After Ad Revenue Drops
- Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has announced that the company is considering plans to integrate a subscription model on the platform.
- Reportedly, that would likely be in the form of an ad-free version of Twitter.
- The news, which was speculated earlier this month after a job listing from the company appeared, comes amid a 23% decline in the platform’s ad sales compared to this time last year.
- It also comes one week after what is now arguably Twitter’s most alarming data breach ever. The company revealed Wednesday that hackers targeted 130 high profile accounts and even accessed the private messages of one elected official in the Netherlands.
Twitter Could Launch a Subscription Model This Year
Amid a sharp decline in advertisement sales, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has now said that the company is actively exploring adding a subscription-based model to the platform.
“You will likely see some tests this year” of different models, Dorsey said.
Dorsey revealed the plan on Thursday as Twitter reported its second-quarter earnings report. Notably, ad revenue accounted for $562 million, and while that might sound like jackpot-equivalent figures to the everyday person, it’s actually 23% dip in ad revenue for Twitter compared to the same quarter last year.
That’s also despite attracting a record 20 million daily active users to the platform during the same time period.
Part of the reason why Twitter is seeing slumping ad sales is due to many companies struggling to stay afloat—let alone to maintain ads—in the current COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Twitter’s drop in ad sales are in line with the U.S. market as a whole, which saw a 25% decline in ad spending for Q2.
Another factor that could play into the drop off involves recent ad boycotts by some companies. Those boycotts have largely been driven by ongoing protests calling for racial justice and criticism that social media platforms are not doing enough to silence hate speech.
Rumors that Twitter executives might be considering such a move already began to circulate earlier this month after the company posted a job opening seeking a senior software engineer that would join a “new team.”
According to the posting, that team would be focused on “building a subscription platform,” codenamed “Gryphon.” It’s unknown if that name will be used in the future.
Following this news, Twitter stocks surged—particularly because a subscription model would open up new revenue streams and raise the company’s value. After Dorsey’s official announcement, Twitter shares again rose on Thursday.
“First and foremost, we have a really high bar for when we would ask consumers to pay for aspects of Twitter,” Dorsey said in justification of the potential model. “We have focused majority of our attention on increasing revenue durability, meaning that we have multiple lines of revenue to pull from. But most importantly, we want to make sure that any new line of revenue is complementary to our advertising business.”
Essentially, don’t expect to start having to pay to post that tweet that you just know is going to explode with likes; reportedly, Twitter’s subscription model will likely be an ad-free version of the platform.
“The prospect of a paid version of Twitter—free from trackers, annoying ads and irritating algorithms which meddle with the clean chronology of the timeline—has been a holy grail for certain Twitter addicts since (basically) forever,” Natasha Lomas wrote for Tech Crunch. “So plenty of its most fervent users will be watching keenly to see exactly what Dorsey cooks up.”
Some social media platforms, such as YouTube, have already launched subscription services; however, YouTube’s model is more closely aligned to that of streaming providers. Twitter’s most direct competitors—Facebook and Instagram—are completely free and devoid of subscription models. Like Twitter, both platforms rely on ads.
The Extent of That Massive Twitter Hack
Twitter’s stunted earnings follow what Dorsey called a “tough week” for the platform. In fact, it was arguably one of Twitter’s worst weeks ever as a massive bitcoin hack compromised dozens of high profile accounts.
The victims of the hack include of a wide scope of public figures, ranging from reality star Kim Kardashian-West to former President Barack Obama and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
Twitter revealed the further extent of that hack Wednesday and just how deep its security breach is believed to have stretched.
“We believe that for up to 36 of the 130 targeted accounts, the attackers accessed the DM inbox, including 1 elected official in the Netherlands,” Twitter said in a tweet. “To date, we have no indication that any other former or current elected official had their DMs accessed.”
To recap:— Twitter Support (@TwitterSupport) July 23, 2020
🔹130 total accounts targeted by attackers
🔹45 accounts had Tweets sent by attackers
🔹36 accounts had the DM inbox accessed
🔹8 accounts had an archive of “Your Twitter Data” downloaded, none of these are Verified
“We feel terrible about the security incident,” Dorsey said Thursday. “Security doesn’t have an end point. It’s a constant iteration… We will continue to go above and beyond here as we continue to secure our systems and as we continue to work with external firms and law enforcement.”