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Essay: The Effectiveness of Censoring Fake News: A Look at Singapore’s Approach

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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Name: Katherine Tay Naylor
Class: O6

4 in 5 Singaporeans (Ng Huiwen) said that they were confident in spotting fake news. However, when tested, 90% of their answers were wrong (Ng Huiwen). The spread of fake news can create confusion and misunderstanding about important social or political issues, affect students who unintentionally use fake news in their projects or essays, and trusting fake news could lead to making decisions that may be harmful to you or others (“Why Is Fake News Harmful?”). Fake news is false news stories, created to be widely distributed, and have malicious intent. So, to censor fake news would be to remove parts of, or entirely, false news stories with malicious intent so that it cannot be widely distributed. (Cambridge Dictionary). In my opinion, Censoring fake news is the best way to stop it, but it is not the only way to do so.

Censorship is an effective way to stop fake news. Completely censoring a piece of fake news will prevent people from seeing it and prevent further problems caused by it. By being strict about the censorship of fake news, the amount of it decreases as those who create fake news are aware that there are consequences for doing so. One such example of a government that is very strict about censorship of fake news is the Singapore government. As of October 2019, according to The Verge (Newton Casey):
“Under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill, it is now illegal to spread ‘false statements of fact’ under circumstances in which that information is deemed ‘prejudicial’ to Singapore’s security, public safety, ‘public tranquility,’ or to the ‘friendly relations of Singapore with other countries,’ among numerous other topics. Government ministers can decide whether to order something deemed fake news to be taken down or for a correction to be put up alongside it. They can also order technology companies such as Facebook and Google — both of which opposed the bill during its fast-tracked process through parliament — to block accounts or sites spreading false information.” (Newton Casey) Therefore, Singapore has the most effective method of approaching censorship of fake news, as shown by numerous examples. One such case could be a Facebook post by TODAY, on the 27th of January, stating “‘A false statement was made in a HardwareZone forum post, claiming that a man has died from the Wuhan coronavirus infection in Singapore. HardwareZone is required to carry the Correction Notice to all end-users in Singapore who use HardwareZone.com,’ said the Pofma Office” the post on HardwareZone also stated that the man developed pneumonia after getting infected with the coronavirus, which was also a false statement. By taking action, quickly censoring, and announcing that this news article was fake, the Singapore government avoided further confusion and possibly fear among the recipients of this fake news. Therefore, this law has aided Singapore significantly in terms of protecting its citizens from false news.

Government censorship is also the fastest way to stop fake news. Censoring fake news can be done as soon as it is posted, so as to prevent it from being potentially harmful to the public. By censoring fake news and announcing that the information is not genuine in a quick manner, there will be less panic and misunderstanding amongst the public. This will prevent issues from getting out of control and cause public alarm. One such incident (Jean Iau) was a 40-year old Singaporean taxi driver who spread false information about food services in Singapore having very limited availability. He stated, “Food courts, coffee shop all to close. Supermarkets will only open two days a week. Better go stock up your stuff for the next month or so. Government officials (were) in (a) meeting yesterday and will finalize measures tomorrow.” This information was given in a public place, near a flat in Bishan, allowing anyone to have viewed this message and could cause it to spread quickly. Thankfully, the government took notice of this false information and was able to censor the fake news in about a week, preventing further public alarm (Straits Times). This furthermore shows that censoring fake news can be done quickly by governments, and is the fastest known way to stop the spread of fake news.

However, censorship is quite a heavy-handed way of combating fake news. A method such as public outreach would be a more amenable approach, as it would educate the public on how to identify and better handle misinformation and false news, as well as how to prevent harm caused by them. An example of this would be a REACH poll in 2018, stating that “only one in three Singaporeans believe they can identify fake news” (Channel News Asia). Greater education on fake news for the public would enable them to protect themselves and their peers from false news stories online. This would lessen the need for the confrontation of fake news authors, as doing this may cause them to be offended, and this may in turn reflect badly on the government. If these fake news articles had not gotten too much attention as the public is educated on fake news and able to sort truth from falsity as well as valuable information from nonsense, the government would not have to step in and censor it. Unfortunately, educating the public may not be powerful enough to combat fake news. In recent times, more and more people get paranoid easily and fake news can cause panic and alarm among citizens with less effort. A crucial example of this would be the alarm caused in worker dormitories as many people there have gotten infected by the coronavirus. Straits Times article states, “Some people have been spreading fake news about the situation in foreign worker dormitories here, to incite fear, panic and hopefully, violence, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.” (Charmaine Ng). Therefore, the government would have to take further measures and censor any false information instead of trusting the public to make the judgment for themselves. So, censorship may not be the most considerate way to put a stop to fake news. Regardless, it is still the most efficient way, and that is essential in the present we live in now. Public outreach or confrontation of fake news authors are certainly alternative ways to stop fake news, but they do not work as well as censorship.

In conclusion, censorship is the most efficient way to stop fake news, because it is effective and fast. This makes it, by far, the best way to stop fake news. Censoring fake news helps us to keep communities safe by stopping the spread of false information and preventing public alarm. All in all, I agree with the statement that “censorship is the best way to stop fake news.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Huiwen, Ng. 4 In 5 Singaporeans Confident in Spotting Fake News but 90 percent Wrong When Put to the Test: Survey. 27 Sept. 2018, www.straitstimes.com/singapore/4-in-5-singaporeans-confident-in-spotting-fake-news-but-90-per-cent-wrong-when-put-to-the.
Carr, Ashley. Fake News and Alternative Facts: Finding Accurate News: Home. 8 July 2020, https://researchguides.austincc.edu/c.php?g=612891&p=4258046.
“FAKE NEWS: Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge Dictionary, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fake-news.
Newton, Casey. “Singapore’s Fake News Law Should Be a Warning to American Lawmakers.” The Verge, The Verge, 3 Dec. 2019, www.theverge.com/interface/2019/12/3/20991422/singapore-fake-news-law-censorship-politics-usa.
“TODAY.” TODAY – “A False Statement Was Made in a HardwareZone…, TODAY, www.facebook.com/todayonline/posts/a-false-statement-was-made-in-a-hardwarezone-forum-post-claiming-that-a-man-has-/10157441725737572/.
Iau, Jean, and Shaffiq Alkhatib. “Singaporean Man Charged with Posting Fake Information on Covid-19 Circuit Breaker Measures.” The Straits Times, The Straits Times, 27 Apr. 2020, www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/man-to-be-charged-for-spreading-fake-news-on-covid-19-circuit-breaker.
Fattah, Farzana. “Fake News About The COVID-19 That Went Viral Is Why We Need To Check First Before Sharing.” TheSmartLocal, TheSmartLocal, 5 Mar. 2020, https://thesmartlocal.com/read/fake-news-covid-19/.
“More than 70% in Singapore Have Come across Fake News Online: REACH Poll.” CNA, CNA, 26 Mar. 2018, www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/fake-news-singapore-reach-poll-survey-10077100.
Ng, Charmaine. Coronavirus: Fake News Used to Stir up Unhappiness in Dorms, Says Shanmugam. 30 Apr. 2020, www.straitstimes.com/singapore/shanmugam-fake-news-used-to-stir-up-unhappiness-in-dorms.

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