Civil Society Responses to Singapore’s Online “Fake News” Law
Singapore’s Protection Against Online Falsehoods and Misinformation Act (POFMA) is part of a growing trend of new laws against “fake news” online. This study examines POFMA’s impact on online political discourse through semi-structured interviews with 17 Singapore-based journalists, academics, and activists. This study indicates that POFMA is a distinctive form of online censorship, because of its emphasis on truth and credibility. First, POFMA allows the government to prominently refute civil society actions online, which in turn creates new openings for highly visible resistance against online censorship. Second, POFMA also subtly imposes costs on participating in online political discourse, by exacerbating issues of trust in digital spaces and constrained data availability. Crucially, this form of censorship targets processes of discourse production (specifically processes that are less deferential to the state), instead of merely categories of discourse (critical speech), and legitimizes the state as the ultimate fact-checker. This new form of censorship is likely to have more wide-ranging impacts than censorship as it is traditionally understood, and merits further study.