It is of course no secret that I am a pretty big fan of the Singaporean government and its achievements in many areas. Really, the impression you get as a (rational) foreigner arriving in the country is that so many things just make so much sense that it’s shocking that so few others do them (my Facebook post about airport experiences is just one example).
So, given the country’s great track record I was really looking forward to seeing it deploy the globally quite unique law that aims to counter one of the biggest issues faced by the modern world – waves of misleading content flooding the media (and social media), which may have disastrous consequences to how people judge the surrounding reality and impact the political choices they make at the ballot.
With ubiquitous access to the internet it’s easy for crooks to fabricate stuff with a goal of exploiting people’s emotions to elevate themselves as politicians or other figures of influence. I don’t think it needs explaining how dangerous it is. You may end up electing either complete idiots – incompetent to the point that they actually believe the poorly researched stuff they publish themselves – or quite malicious, dishonest characters who will happily tell any lie to win a position of power.
The issue of fake news is being discussed worldwide but Singapore – as it often does – went ahead and actually implemented measures to tackle it. And (again, as usual) it appears to have done it rather brilliantly.
When Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act was introduced this spring, various hysterical commentators were crying out how this is an assault on freedom of speech and that the government will now have the power to silence and censor all critics.
Well, as we are now able to tell, all this caterwauling was a bit of a fake news itself, because the practical application of the law proves something quite different.
The latest examples of orders issued against the Facebook posts published by Singapore’s opposition parties – PSP and SDP – prove that the law is not used to muzzle anybody but actually the opposite – it provides more information to the public, revealing the complete picture by correcting false statements without actually taking them down.
If you think about it, this is the best way to deal with liars – don’t censor them but rather shame them publicly by exposing their ill intentions (or incompetence).
Outright censorship is often self-defeating because it creates an impression of a “forbidden fruit” – that something was suppressed by the authorities out of fear – what may actually attract even more people to it. It happens in countries where people in charge are paranoid about the public knowing too much rather than knowing too little. It may be useful in matters where factual argumentation is futile – like religion – but not when objective information is readily available.
So, how POFMA works is the exact opposite of censorship.
Its goal is to ensure people know more rather than to hide something from them. It’s the finest example of transparency you may think of.
In fact, to achieve that goal it actually attracts even more attention to the offending content because every time a correction order is issued it is widely broadcasted by other media.
So the threat that the law is making to irresponsible people is not that they will be silenced but that their idiocy is going to be put in the spotlight.
The last thing it can be labeled as is censorship. It’s rather a walk of shame (much like the one suffered by Cersei in the Game of Thrones) which lays the offences of the sinners bare and invites everyone to witness – and shame them – as they are being exposed.
Free speech advocates love to talk how the best way to tackle bad ideas is with good ideas – and lies with the truth. Well, isn’t it the perfect example of these principles being put to practical use?
Think about that next time you want want to scream “censorship!” again.
So, not only does the new law not restrict anybody’s speech it actually proves that the authorities are eager to fight falsehoods with facts, giving an unrestricted view to all to see and judge what the truth is for themselves.
I have to say I’m feeling a certain satisfaction about this because that’s usually my modus operandi in dealing with liars – especially as some of Singapore’s opposition pages and individuals (hello Brad) were spreading falsehoods about me personally.
Challenging their lies – about my education, my heritage, my motives or even my existence – in full view not only attracted thousands of new followers to my page but shut the offenders right up, when they realized that what they do actually works to my advantage.
The story of POFMA may very well be the same – the more they resist and the more they try to lie, the more opportunities they’re giving for the truth to be given remarkable publicity – especially as it is presented right next to whatever rubbish story they have come up with this time.
Accusations of discrimination or silencing sound really rather ridiculous considering that not a single word has been removed or altered but rather quite deliberately left for everybody to see how misleading they are.
And just like that irresponsible, manipulative clowns are forced to attack the government not for removing what they published but rather for drawing too much attention to it.
It turns out that there is such a thing as bad publicity after all – and it may very well be the best way to deal with fake news.