Singapore has used the relatively new “fake news” law to punish a website that spreads “false” information about COVID-19 vaccines. Rights groups have previously warned that the broad scope of the law could be used to stifle free speech in a country where the media is already highly regulated.
Singapore-based outlet Truth Warriors publishes negative stories about COVID-19 vaccines. The health ministry found it to be in violation of the “fake news” law, aka the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, and ordered it to include a disclaimer that it has “false statement of fact” at the top of all its pages.
The ministry said that information on the website could “mislead people into thinking that COVID-19 vaccines are not effective in restricting transmission rates,” yet “the weight of international evidence” shows that the vaccines reduce infection rates and the risk of severe illness.
The ministry added: “These materials are from unverified and dubious sources, and individuals who heed the advice of ‘Truth Warriors’ can endanger themselves and the people around them.”
Singapore’s “fake news” law is one of the world’s strictest misinformation laws and has been accused of being created purely as a way for the government to stifle dissent.
The law is so broad that rights groups have previously warned it could be used to stifle free speech and target critics of the government. The concern is further validated by the fact that political speech is highly restricted in the country.
Other experts have warned that other governments might adopt similar laws.
The law “is especially appealing to other authoritarian governments that are looking for less-draconian ways to control the narratives, stifle dissenting voices and legitimize their actions,” warned Masato Kajimoto of the University of Hong Kong’s school of journalism in a statement to the Washington Post.