Big tech is expressing alarm over the Lion City’s latest proposals to protect its citizens from fake news with its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill.

The bill, which has now been tabled in parliament, proposes maximum fines of S$1m (US$738,000) for platforms that don’t remove what are described as “deliberate online falsehoods” fast enough, or which don’t carry official corrections.

The likes of Twitter, Facebook and Google are concerned, among other things, about the breadth of the powers proposed, as well as the exact definition of what is false and manipulative, and are calling for more consultation.

The bill also says tech platforms must take action against accounts that are driving falsehoods, which would include those driven by bots; plus, platforms would need to block digital ads on any site found to repeatedly publish fake news.

Jeff Paine, managing director of the Asia Internet Coalition, which includes Google, Facebook and Twitter as members, told Campaign Asia he was “deeply disappointed by the lack of meaningful opportunities for public consultation during the drafting process of this bill, given the significant implications it could have for diverse stakeholders, including industry, media and civil society, in Singapore, the region and internationally”.

He added, “We reiterate our position, which echoes that of many experts around the world, that prescriptive legislation should not be the first solution in addressing what is a highly nuanced and complex issue.”

The country’s Law Ministry says a deliberate online falsehood would need to be a misleading or false statement of fact, and the definition would not apply to opinion, criticism, parody or satire. It said legal action could be taken if there was a false statement of fact, and if taking action would be in the public interest, which has a broad definition in Singapore, and includes matters that affect public health, safety and finances, and also anything deemed to incite hatred or influence an election.

Meanwhile, YouTube has been accused of brushing aside concerns expressed by staff over “false, incendiary and toxic content” in the pursuit of viewer engagement.

According to Bloomberg, quoting staffers, the practice of ignoring concerns ran rampant as the company sought ‘engagement’ above all else. The company denied the claim, saying it has taken “significant steps”, including updating its recommendation system, to prevent the spread of harmful misinformation.

Sourced from Campaign Asia, Bloomberg; additional content by WARC staff