Social media firms put profit above principle: Singapore minister

K. Shanmugam, in an interview for the Reuters Next conference on Tuesday, also defended Singapore's new law against concern that it is a censorship tool.

He said there was a "consensus" developing around the world that tackling fake news can't be left to the tech platforms, although he said it remained unclear how many countries would follow Singapore with regulatory measures.

"Let's be frank, when social media platforms argue against it (regulation), it's really putting profit above principle," Shanmugam said

Singapore's Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) introduced in late 2019 has been called the "most far-reaching legislation of its kind to date" by the Asia Internet Coalition, an association of internet and technology companies.

It allows government ministers to order news outlets, social media users or platforms to carry warnings that their pages or posts contain false statements, and to include links to a government fact-checking website.

There are more stringent actions, fines and even jail for non-compliance.

Video Transcript

K. SHANMUGAM: There is the general consensus developing in many places that it can't just be left to the tech platforms because they are also driven by their commercial interests. So it's got to be some authority which is able to move quickly. And ultimately, you know, I suspect the matter will have to be finally arbitrated in some sort of-- through some sort of judicial process. So it's a question of what interim process can you have, which is quick, fast.

What we need to do is to try and enhance the positive potential of social media while dealing with the negative aspects. That's the role of governments everywhere. And I think you're getting a lot of discussions in many countries, both in the West and in other parts, dealing with the monopoly power, dealing with antitrust issues, dealing with fake news.

I think the latest events in Washington and the whole sort of discussions surrounding the U.S. Presidential elections and the subsequent Georgian state Senate elections I think has added to this discussion. This is a serious issue. I think one thing everyone agrees is that this is a very serious issue. Fake news is affecting people. There is a lot of debate on how best to deal with it.