Singapore’s parliament last week overwhelmingly voted in favour of controversial legislation that gives the authorities sweeping new powers to order the correction or removal of online content.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act will come into force in the next few weeks, enabling the government to order the removal of content considered to be “falsehoods” that are “against the public interest”.

As reported by the BBC, the law can be applied across a broad range of platforms, from social media to news websites, which will face penalties if they fail to comply with official orders to remove content or post corrections.

It means that tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter could be hit with fines of up to S$1m ($737,790) if they do not act quickly to limit the spread of “falsehoods”. Tech platforms also will be required to disable fake accounts operated by bots as well as block ads served on fake news sites.

What’s more, the Singaporean legislation differs from similar laws in other countries in that it also will apply to closed private platforms, such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp, and apps with end-to-end encryption.

“Closed platforms, chat groups, social media groups, can serve as a public megaphone as much as an open platform,” said Edwin Tong, senior minister of state for law, during last week’s parliamentary debate.

The Singaporean government insists that the new law has safeguards against any abuse of power because it allows judicial reviews of official orders, but several campaign groups are alarmed and tech companies have expressed reservations too.

“This is really moving towards a Big Brother style of control and censorship project,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. “It’s a direct threat to freedom of expression and is something the entire world should be alarmed about.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty International said the law would “give the Singapore authorities unchecked powers to clamp down on online views of which it disapproves”.

Google, Facebook and Twitter said in separate statements that they remain committed to working with the Singapore government to tackle the spread of misinformation. But they also expressed concern about the law’s potential impact on innovation, its broad terms and how it will be implemented.

Sourced from BBC, Channel News Asia; additional content by WARC staff