Academics against disinformation

On 1 April 2019, the Singapore government tabled the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill. A group of academics expressed deep reservations about the proposed law. Parliament passed it on 8 May 2019. This section of the website is an archive of statements and commentaries, originally published as a Google Doc.

“We are concerned about Singapore’s proposed legislation certainly not because we are oblivious to the seriousness of the global assault on reason. On the contrary, academics are at the front lines of this battle. But no country’s response should undermine the very capacities it requires to deal with this crisis.”

MEDIA RELEASE, 13 APRIL 2019

Our statements

Media release, 13 April 2019

As academics with expertise, experience or interest in Singapore and Asia generally, we are concerned that the proposed legislation will have unintended detrimental consequences for scholars and research in Singapore, compromising Singapore’s notable efforts to develop itself into an internationally-recognised hub for excellence in higher education. The legislation may also set negative precedents, with knock-on effects on the global academy. – Read more

Letter to Minister for Education, 11 April 2019

The advance of knowledge derives from, and hence much of academic work focuses on, disputing apparently established “facts”.  These are confirmed or denied through the process of research, and continuously reappraised as new data and analysis become available over time.  Thus for many phenomena it is not possible to state definitively what is a “fact” proven for all time, and what is a conjecture or hypothesis that may turn out to be “false or misleading”. It is specifically those statements that “a reasonable person” would consider “to be a representation of fact” that are most usefully subject to rigorous academic scrutiny. – Read more

See also:

Media coverage

Government replies

Public advisory from the Ministry of Law, July 2019

“This addresses how the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act applies to counter online falsehoods. It sets out some illustrations, examples and principles, most of which have been given publicly, during discussions on this issue, including during the debate on the Act in Parliament.” – Download the PDF | Originally posted here

Education Minister’s speech in Parliament, 7 May 2019

“In our context, I can assure the House, that if it is empirical research, we will stay true to science and empirical evidence. We have always been, sometimes to a fault. And if it is an opinion-based research, we will have a rigorous public debate. Under both scenarios, POFMA does not apply in such a discourse.” – Education Minister Ong Ye Kung. Read the news report | Read the full speech | View the full speech

Small group crying wolf, but most citizens want strong laws, 6 May 2019

The Government is confident that there is broad and deep support among an overwhelming majority of Singaporeans for laws to tackle online falsehoods. The Government will continue its public education efforts so that there is an even better understanding of the Bill. – Read the article by Senior Minister of State for Law Edwin Tong.

Education Ministry’s response to letter, 12 April 2019

“The Bill covers verifiably false statements of fact which affect public interest. The Bill does not restrict opinion and will not affect academic research work. This is true regardless of what view the work presents.” – Read the news report

Views of academics

Other statements of concern

Resources

Contact

This effort was coordinated by Linda Lim, assisted by Cherian George and other Singaporean scholars. Please use the contact form on the home page if you have queries.