Who is Terry Xu? Why is Singapore locking horns with him over fake news law?

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Voters queue to cast their ballots during the general election at a polling center in Singapore September 11, 2015 Reuters

The communications and information ministry as well as the law ministry of Singapore have said online criticism against the government's new anti-fake news law is unwarranted and inaccurate. The ministries said an article by The Online Citizen (TOC) and a Facebook post by its editor Terry Xu contain falsehoods.

The ministries clarified that the charges levelled by Terry Xu and the TOC against the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) are incorrect. Earlier, Xu and his publication had said that ministers can use Pofma during the elections to restrict and curtail online content.

"The Act states that for the entire election period Ministers cease to exercise their powers under Pofma. Instead, senior civil servants are appointed as the Ministers' alternate authorities for the election period," the ministries said in a clarification, Today Online reported.

The Pofma Act came into force in Singapore on October 2. This new act aims to fight fake news by empowering the government to remove malicious falsehoods online. It also provides for the people and organisations to seek legal redressed of grievances relating to the propagation of fake news.

Some of the provisions in Pofma gives the government targeted powers to stop the spread of falsehoods that aim to damage the country's security, foreign relations, public peace, health, safety and finances, Today had reported.

However, TOC published an article whose headline read - Has anyone thought about this one way top down enforcement of so called 'fake news'?" The article argued that the new law could potentially allow a Minister to deem a piece of news as 'fake' as a means to silence a critic".

"Will this also lead to opposition parties censoring their own campaigning tweets or Facebook posts for fear of running foul of this law?" the article asked.

Robust safeguards

Terry Xu, the chief editor, made a separate Facebook post criticising the Act. "Given that a minister/appointed person to handle appeals of takedown/correction order, can sit on his or her ass for two days without doing anything before considering that the appeal is rejected. Means that hundreds if not thousands of online statements whether legitimate or illegitimate could be issued with the orders without caring if the ministry has to deal with the aftermath," he wrote.

However, the ministries clarified that the "robust safeguards on the use of Pofma will continue to be in place during the elections.

"It is disingenuous to talk about the need for voters to know 'what actually happened', while suggesting that falsehoods should be allowed to go unaddressed during an election period."

Related topics : Fake news