When the governments of Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand moved at roughly the same time to regulate social media, establishment news sources were quick to label it a regional problem.
In April 2019, for example, Singapore’s government introduced a bill banning fake news. This bill would obligate social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to remove or modify posts that the Singapore government considers false. Additionally, individuals spreading misinformation online could be hit with steep punishment, including jail time or a fine. What constitutes “misinformation,” in the eyes of Singapore’s rulers, is demonstrated by the bill’s language, which would give ministers the ability to limit posts that disrupt “public tranquility” and “friendly relations of Singapore with other countries,” or that fail to promote or express “public confidence in the performance of … the government.”
In Thailand, meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha claimed social media created “incorrect thinking” in the Thai people, while Taiwan planned to ban “Chinese-owned video-streaming services” in order to limit citizens’ exposure to false information the government believed was spread by its longtime enemy. Prime Minister Chan-o-cha appeared well aware that social media, especially Facebook, helped citizens mobilize to overthrow the government in 2013-2014, which eventually resulted in his military junta seizing power.
Even in Australia, generally considered an open, Western democracy, parliament implemented a new law giving authorities the ability to punish social media platforms for not deleting graphic content, including the display of rape, murder, and terrorism. The punishments can come in two forms: a fine against the company–which could be as much as a tenth of the company’s annual revenue–and/or the jailing of executives, regardless of their location or origin, as punishment for not taking down the offending post.
Such actions, of course, are not limited to any particular region of the world, or just one political system. No government is a stranger to corruption and censorship. Measures taken in order to hide dissent and unfavorable opinions of the leadership are commonplace. All governments attempt to protect their images at the expense of the people. The suppression of online dissent in the name of eliminating “fake news” is a troubling possibility everywhere, including the United States.
“Asian Governments Are Trying to Curb Fake News,” The Economist, April 4, 2019, www.economist.com/asia/2019/04/04/asian-governments-are-trying-to-curb-fake-news.
Cynthia Choo, “Examples of Offensive Lyrics Were Used to Make a Point, It Doesn’t Mean the Songs Will Be Banned: Shanmugam,” TODAY (Singapore), April 2, 2019, www.todayonline.com/singapore/parliament-handout-offensive-lyrics-does-not-mean-those-songs-will-be-banned-shanmugam.
Student Researcher: Ciel LaBossiere-Little (Frostburg State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Duncan (Frostburg State University)
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