FOR THE SITTING ON 8 JULY 2019
QUESTION NO. 31 FOR WRITTEN ANSWER
31. Ms Anthea Ong: To ask the Minister for Communications and Information with regard to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (a) what is the Ministry's training plan and guidelines for Ministers and their civil service teams on the use of the Act, especially in the assessment of fact and falsehood; and (b) what public education programmes are being planned on the intent and implications of the Act for ordinary citizens and civil society.
Mr Speaker, the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (“POFMA”) is the result of a lengthy and thorough process of consultation and public discussion.
2 MCI and the POFMA Office have been working closely with colleagues from other Ministries to put in place processes and workflows to execute the law when it comes into effect later this year. Ministers, supported by their officers, have the requisite expertise in their diverse domains to assess firstly whether a statement is false, and secondly whether it is in the public interest to act against it. The determination of “falsehood” is well-established in law, and Ministries can seek views from AGC on such points of jurisprudence if in doubt. Ministries will also be supported by the POFMA Office, which will provide technical advice to ensure consistency in the implementation of the Act.
3 POFMA will not affect regular conversations and interaction, nor honest participation in public discourse by citizens and civil society. If someone unknowingly shares a falsehood, they may be asked to carry a correction if public interest is involved. Criminal prosecution will be reserved for malicious actors who intentionally create or spread falsehoods, knowing that it can harm society.
4 The government will work with and support partners in their information and media literacy programmes, to ensure that people have the instincts and skills to look out for falsehoods, and be circumspect when they share information online. A discerning and well-informed public is the best defense against online falsehood.