"Fake news" and civil rights in Singapore

Now living in the U.S., Singapore poet Jee Leong Koh puts out a newsletter called Singapore Unbound. In addition to bringing attention to the arts, Jee frequently writes about civil rights. Here is an excerpt from a recent column of his:

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act tabled in Singapore’s Parliament on Monday threatens to restrict free speech in the country even further. It effectively gives any Minister the power to decide what is fact and to demand corrections or removals of statements that he deems to be against the public interest. If passed, the Act will not just create a Ministry of Truth, so ironically named in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, but will turn all agents of the Singapore government into Ministries of Truth.

For now, this bill has been tabled, but it remains a subject of concern to human rights organizations. Its ramifications and possible effects are discussed in detail here. The following photo of Roy Ngerngwas, a blogger sued after accusing the prime minister of misusing public funds, and excerpts are from the same article.

What’s particularly alarming about the proposal is that it can be activated by any government minister if they believe that “a false statement of fact… has been or is being communicated in Singapore” or if they feel that issuing a correction is “in the public interest.”

The proposed act is focused on Singapore, but it will cover any piece of content worldwide. While, beyond merely covering content pertinent to the security of Singapore, the harmony of its people, its national politics and services, the process can be triggered “in the interest of friendly relations of Singapore with other countries.”

There’s also a clause that covers “a diminution of public confidence in the performance of any duty or function of government” and its associated organizations.


Singapore is a country that values public safety, public security, public tranquility, public good etc. over western style free speech or freedom of expression. Worldwide governments have passed or considering restrictions on social media content harmful to society. They are not waiting while the in US where these social media are based they are still debating what is the definition of free speech online. The inability of online social media to curb the proliferation of fake news, misinformation, disinformation, extremist views etc. that divide society. In myanmar where a UN representative called Fb a ‘beast’ this caused the ‘genocide’ of Rohingya muslims, lynchings in India, inflaming ethnic and religious hatred in Sri Lanka etc. Recent bombings in Sri lanka forced the government for the second time to block FB. There are growing discontent of online social media worldwide. No wonder Singapore is considering passing such law.


Thanks very much, @richard1. You’re right that that perspective needs to be considered.

Dangers arise when such laws are implemented to target dissidents, reformists, and progressives. Here is an article on surveillance in Xinjiang:

Another perspective, this one from The Guardian:

I’m interested in Xinjiang because a few of the writers my office is publishing in our eco-poetry issue are from the province, and the PRC government has restricted the national conversation on environmental and climate topics.

The balance between free speech and social stability may be beyond our human abilities to strike, but we need to try.


@patm China is a surveilance state. Not only the Uighurs muslim minority but the whole population of china is being monitored. China is obssesed in controlling their society because they are afraid of chaos. Social stability at all cost. This has historical basis when china was not united and weak other powers took advantage at china’s expense I think China’s government doesn’t concern much about freedom of speech if the cohesion of the country is at stake. The chinese goverment has received wide international comdemnation of the surveillance of Uighur minority, using Ai for racial profiling through facial recognition to track and monitor their activities, data mining of massive scale including collecting their DNA. Harsh crackdown and million of them in detention. On this sense china broke new grounds on identifying certain group for enforcement purposes. What is alarming the surveillance state model of china has now been exported to country like Ecuador. The use of chinese technology for surveillance has raised concern while it is use against illegal activities. It also sent to the country’s intelligience agency which has a reputation of using political violence against political dissent. 18 countries are now using china’s intelligient monitoring system. This a form of controlling the masses. This is scary. Think of it if this become a norm worldwide.
Your concern about the few contributing writers on environmental and climate topics you have from Xinjiang province I think the restriction has political undertone. the authorities don’t want or rectrict connection or relationship with foreign organization because they feared foreign ideas might influence them or they might say something to their connection about the situation on Xinjiang. You have to remember that china’s has billed itself as the champion and leader of climate issues after the US pulled from the Paris climate agreement. Political stability is always paramount to china’s leaders. I don’t think it would change soon.


Social media is a mess. The biggest problem must be the power to manipulate, but that power to manipulate has also already existed in government and media for ages. Perhaps what governments are concerned about is this newfound competition in the power to manipulate, which has been democratised but also put into the hands of capitalists and foreign governments.

So the power to control minds and actions has shifted from the local national government to corporations looking to profit and foreign governments.

Yes, Facebook is responsible for the murders across South Asia from Sri Lanka to India to Bangladesh to Myanmar. Basically they don’t pay enough attention to these places because of low incomes there and therefore ad revenue is low, not to mention a huge cultural distance from Facebook’s Euro-American culture. Disgusting.

This is a terrible double standard that is inexcusable, where Facebook has proven that they do not believe in the concept of humane equality. Facebook apparently believes that South Asians are disposable humans. (While the rich world must be kept alive and manipulated for Facebook’s own extractive financial gain.) Disgusting.

Also the UN itself has an army. In this age on hybrid warfare, why don’t they do something about the media and technology? Certainly if the same amount of money that was invested in military were invested in humane tech, we could all be using a UN social network free of money motivation and with human moderation.

China in the past had Holocausted about 77 million people, people don’t care and that government is still in power. Now 1 million Uighurs imprisoned in East Turkestan (Xinjiang), people just don’t care. Disgusting.

It’s a double standard, the world cares only about rich people. 1 billion Euros will go to rebuild a monument to the mega rich, a tourist attraction smelly old church in one of the richest (financially) cities in one of the richest countries in the world. With that kind of money we could fix the internet. Disgusting.


It’s always a bad idea to confront two completely uncorrelated good actions claiming that people doing the first should have done the second instead. So Notre Dame is just a smelly old church for the richest people? Notre Dame is one of the biggest cultural heritages of western culture, as other famous monuments across Europe. So people should choose whether to raise money to rebuild it or to use money for other right causes? I don’t accept this kind of imposed alternatives.


Humane tech would need money from donations or governments to build better and safer tech alternatives to big bad tech. What’s wrong with comparing with the other places where money is spent? I can say 1 billion Euros is enough money to either:

  1. build humane, safe and secure tech alternatives for the whole planet, which would de-zombify the human race and allow humanity to flourish
  2. fix one church, a symbol of abuse of power, lies, waste, and manipulation and control of society by the rich

The reason I picked these two things is because of the massive amount of money in the church fixing project, the number seemed appropriate for fixing all of tech. Also you mentioned these things being unrelated, but people are free to spend money on unrelated things. Also this is not a choice between these two alternatives, it is a comparison.

I think many billionaires are out of touch with reality. In fact that is why we are here, because of all the flawed billionaires who control the world.

1 Like

To allow humanity to flourish we need beauty and history.

1 Like

I am not an expert in social media but I think that there are already more humane, safer and more secure alternatives to FB… but how many people used them? How many people left FB (after revealing their mega scandals) and choose healthier alternative?
Nobody is forced to use FB and I am worried that if tomorrow we have perfect (even if there is no such thing as perfect) alternative to FB just very few people will switch to it… should we force them to switch? And should we force people to switch all the time when better alternative will occur?

So where do you want to send 1 billion Euros to fix internet? To French government or US or Germany? Or each one proportional part of this budget? Or to which Humane tech organization? It seems to me little bit monochromatic and non realistic that 1 billion Euro will fix the internet. There are many movements, so how do you want distribute money if we have them? And who is the authority and right person to make decision where these money will be sent?

Of course people are not awakened yet in this area…but even if they completely will be there is no guarantee that they will follow and use perfect alternative to big bad tech. Most of people already know that using airplanes for fun and vacation is not healthy for our planet (most of people are awakened) but just minority act based on that fact. And there are plenty of healthier alternatives how to spend saved air ticket money. For planet and for fixing internet.
If we would have real and executable plan how to fix internet with 1 billion Euro we could just ask good and innocent people for few cents (over 2 billion FB users).
Unfortunately we do not know yet how to fix internet or people do not trust us (they do not expect that any government or movement know how to do that). We do know how to fix church and people expect that it can be done. This could be a reason why even poor people will give few Euros for it.
A lot of small and difficult steps in front us in this field.


As the discussion is about civil rights, how does the church relate to civil rights, or the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality? Even the state won’t pay for churches, as it goes against freedom and therefore is illegal.

More about using facial recognition to spy on people, and again the culprit seems to be China. Here are a few excerpts from an article in the Washington Post about a Chinese company offering to build rail cars for the U.S. capital:

Andrew Grotto, a former senior director for cybersecurity policy on the National Security Council, recently warned that Metro’s request for proposals [for rail cars] did not allow the transit agency to reject a bid because of cybersecurity worries. “The risk of espionage is uniquely high in our nation’s capital,” Grotto, now a fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, said. “Malware could divert data collected from the high definition security cameras. An adversary with that data could then use facial recognition algorithms to track riders, potentially right down to the commuting patterns of individual riders.”

Do we want Chinese intelligence, using facial-recognition sensors or electronic intercept technology, to track Metro riders in and out of the Pentagon? Or the State Department? Or anywhere else in the Metro system? The answer is obvious.

I think the point of my original post was that nations who wage technological war on their own people become self-corrupting. It was actually this idea that first radicalized me. When I read George Packard’s article about Laura Poitras, the American filmmaker who made Citizen Four, I finally understood Edward Snowden’s fight and why it was mine and that of anyone who cared about the basic rights of people. Such rights are synonymous with personhood and should be synonymous with citizenship.

Our discussion here has moved from war on citizens to other things, but the common element is the notion that when governments–and other institutions–become corrupted, they extend their dominion in terrible ways, violating the principles that created them in the first place.


Would they even bother? From everything we’ve learned about tracking and lack of privacy, governments already know the things we’re doing.

I agree on the ‘self-corrupting’ part. What is in China today, is in the US and EU tomorrow, but under a more friendly guise. Already in the US you can use facial recognition as a convenient way to check in on airplanes (JetBlue has started using facial recognition instead of boarding passes). The EU recently voted to create a gigantic biometrics database.

The list goes on an on, and slowly the technology is adopted everywhere. It can be used for convenience, and it can - and will be - used for surveillance and surveillance capitalism.

More data is better. Data is gold and can always be used to provide us “better” services. Like the police - with their budgets ever diminishing - gets this handy AI software that shows them the ‘hotspots’ of where crime is most likely (spoiler: the marketing of the AI system was way better than the system itself, which is full of biases and security flaws). Tech is in the drivers’ seat, and is introduced to the world at greater speed than we can catch up with it.


Thank you for sharing, We believe perspective needs to be considered.