Fake news is a problem that must be curbed: PM Lee, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Fake news is a problem that must be curbed: PM Lee

This article is more than 12 months old

Singapore must set an appropriate boundary in order to protect free speech

There is a wide scope for discourse in Singapore, but fake news is a distinct and specific problem that must be curbed before it affects society, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

He made this point in an interview when asked for his response to concerns that proposed laws to tackle fake news would curb free speech. There is no society in which free speech is absolute or uncontrolled, he said, noting that it exists within appropriate boundaries.

For example, speech that is defamatory or threatening in nature lies outside of these boundaries, said PM Lee in an interview conducted in Mandarin with variety show host Kym Ng and news presenter Evelyn Lam broadcast on Mediacorp's Channel 8 last night.

"We must set an appropriate boundary that would allow us to protect free speech and allow people to exchange information, thoughts and opinions in a meaningful way," he added.

Other countries are also grappling with the problem of fake news, PM Lee said, citing Germany as an example of a country that has enacted laws to tackle the issue.

The Government had introduced the proposed legislation earlier this month, and it is set to be debated when the House sits on May 6.

He is in Beijing for a five-day visit since Thursday to attend the second Belt and Road Forum and witness the signing of memorandums of understanding on bilateral cooperation between Singapore and China.

Fake news pose a real challenge to Singapore, PM Lee said, citing the 2016 United States presidential election, which the US said Russia interfered in, a charge the Russians have denied.

PM Lee said it is fully possible for others to interfere and spread fake news in Singapore too.

"I don't know which other countries might want to participate in our politics, but we do know that we are a very open country," said PM Lee. "We must prepare and shore up our defences, and that's why we have introduced the (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill)."

It is difficult to verify the source of news on social media which may have scant information, he said, adding that some social media accounts do not even show the account holder's real identity.

Noting that there are all types of falsehoods online, the Prime Minister said there was a website that used his pictures and his name to market a bitcoin investment.

"They had 'quoted me' as saying that the product is very good and that I encouraged everyone to invest. It was absurd. But when others see it, how would they know if its real or fake?" said PM Lee.