The internet is free. We’re not talking about the monetary value of the internet but rather the internet as a platform that allows the freedom of expression. It is free, to a huge extent, of control and censorship. Everyday people can upload, share, write and comment on anything and everything under the sun. Of course, depending on which country you live in, certain rules apply but for the most part, the internet is free for the world to use as it pleases.
The fact that left-wing anarchist, cult groups, terrorist groups and bullies all have a place on the internet, we can quite sure that the idea of policing the world wide web is something of a pipe dream. That being said, it’s distractors are plenty and far reaching. American President Donald Trump is an excellent example of this. Mr Trump has labelled certified, reputable and credible news networks, like CNN, as FAKE NEWS. This is mind boggling as the rest of the world looks to networks like CNN as the most credible source of news and information, yet the most powerful man of the free world calls them fake.
Now, we’re not here to argue if CNN is ‘Fake’ or not but rather the growing epidemic of actual fake news. There are thousands of websites that dedicate themselves to providing fake news. News that are based on true events but with totally made up facts, evidence and information. In Singapore alone there are multiple independent news sites that report on the daily happenings that might differ from the official Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) regulated news. Most of these news articles are harmless to an extend but every now and then, there are some exaggerated reports that might confuse readers.
These days, if you Google a particular news report, you might get not only the actual news itself but multiple conflicting reports. These are all made up and fake. It can be a problem if you’re not well versed with which news sites are trustworthy or you’re not tuned in enough to tell the difference.
“Parliament agreed on Wednesday (Jan 10) to establish a Select Committee to look into the problem of deliberate online falsehoods and recommend strategies to deal with them. Singapore is "highly susceptible" to such falsehoods, said Law Minister K Shanmugam as he moved the motion for the appointment of the committee. Mr Shanmugam, who is also Home Affairs Minister, said the deliberate spread of online falsehoods is a serious problem around the world today, and Singapore is susceptible because there is high Internet penetration here with 91 per cent of households having Web access.” – CNA
With this, it is easy to attack and spread falsehoods online, he added.
I have no issue with a government’s stance on eliminating the problem of false news that might generate social issues, jeopardise government policies or the security of our country. The problem I have is what can the government do? Anyone with an internet connection, which these days is everyone (thanks to smartphones with data), can start a blog, share something on social media or comment on reports. Spreading misinformation is literally at the tips of our finger tips.
The government has said that it will look into this problem, study the information gathered and hopefully have a solution to eradicate the problem. My issue is that, in Singapore, we sometimes tend to go overboard in our need for control. We decided that littering of chewing gum was too much of a hassle to police, so we banned it outright. I’m afraid that we might go down that line again. Because we cannot control ‘Fake News’, are we going to ban the internet in its entirety? Or are we going to control the internet so that anyone who wants to have a blog, or news site, must have a licence and pay the government to do so?
Who knows, but I guess the internet is not as free as I once thought it was.