221. A strict self-regulatory approach to tackle online falsehoods

Representatives from tech giants Google, Facebook, Twitter as well as the Asia Internet Coalition appeared before the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods to make their oral representations in Parliament on 22 March 2018.

Facebook’s Asia-Pacific Vice-President of Public Policy Mr Simon Milner was quizzed by Minister for Home Affairs and Law Mr K Shanmugam on the recent news of alleged misuse of Facebook data by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 US presidential election. In the lengthy exchange with Mr Shanmugam, Mr Milner noted that Facebook did have a “moral obligation” to inform users earlier that their data was breached between 2014 and 2015.

When asked if further steps should be taken to verify that data accessed by developers had been deleted after users stop using the app, Mr Milner said: “That’s one of the lessons for us, as to why we’re now going to audit all other apps and not just going to take their affirmation.”

Separately, Mr Alvin Tan (Head of Public Policy for Facebook in Southeast Asia), in a written submission, shared that Facebook plans to work with Government agencies in Singapore ahead of the next General Elections to ensure that it is “rolling out the right tools” which will help users better understand online content. These agencies include the Elections Department and the Ministry of Communications and Information.

During the hearing, representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter shared how they have been fighting online falsehoods. Some of the approaches taken include stemming the flow of money to misleading content, improving news feeds by down-ranking false news and leveraging technology to spot spam. The Asia Internet Coalition, on its part, said a “stringent self-regulatory approach”, executed in coordination and cooperation with the authorities, will have a better outcome when tackling fake news.

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