Not just in Malaysia: (Proposed) fake news laws around the world

Putrajaya tabled its Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 for the first reading in Parliament today. — TODAY pic
Putrajaya tabled its Anti-Fake News Bill 2018 for the first reading in Parliament today. — TODAY pic

KUALA LUMPUR, March 26 — Malaysia is not the first country to have proposed anti-fake news laws with its Parliament tabling today, as other countries worldwide have also taken similar steps towards such laws.

Below is a quick look by Malay Mail at the situation in a few countries:

1. Germany

The most prominent example would be Germany, which has the dubious honour of possibly being the first to introduce a law criminalising online fake news.

Ahead of the country’s September 2017 elections, Germany on June 30, 2017 passed the Net Enforcement Act (NetzDG), a law which largely focuses on hate speech and fake news.

A check by Malay Mail shows that NetzDG is aimed at “unlawful content” relating to offences such as making public falsified information or untrue assertions of facts that may seriously prejudice Germany’s external security or diplomatic relationships.

It also includes defamation, through spreading of untrue facts of another person knowingly; incitement of hatred or the making of threats in a way that may disturb public peace, and even the dissemination of child pornography and other pornography materials.

NetzDG requires major social media network platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to have a procedure to remove or block access to obviously unlawful content within 24 hours of a complaint; or within seven days for all unlawful content, subject to certain situations.

Depending on the type of offence committed, a regulatory fine of up to €500,000 (RM2.417 million) or up to €5 million (RM24.17 million) may be imposed on these companies or its authorised persons.

The seven-day time limit can be exceeded if the decision on whether a content is unlawful is dependent on the factual allegation being false. In this instance, the social network is allowed to give the user a chance to respond to the complaint first. The limit can also be exceeded if the social network refers the decision to a recognised self-regulation institution.

The law came into full force on January 1, 2018, with the Human Rights Watch noting that it has been cited by several countries seeking to introduce laws against illegal content or fake news.

However, newswire Reuters reported earlier this month that German politicians forming a new government coalition are looking to amend NetzDG, including allowing online users to seek the restoration of incorrectly deleted online content.

The lawmakers will also be seeking for an independent body to review public complaints of offensive content, as social media companies facing the threat of stiff fines have allegedly been blocking and deleting more online content than required.

Status: Already enacted and already in force.

2. France

France’s president Emmanuel Macron had on January 3, 2018 announced his plans for a new law to combat fake news and “propaganda” on social media, including requiring websites to reveal those who place advertisements and to cap the amount of money for sponsored content.

Having been a victim of fake news during elections last year, Macron reportedly said the new law would also allow for a new emergency action for fake news during the election period, which would empower a judge to delete content, close a user’s account or block access to a website.

French Minister of Culture Francoise Nyssen was reported saying that the new law will permit the government to act very quickly when a fake news story goes viral, especially during the election period.

The proposed law will make it easier to sue to remove fake news if it is being massively and artificially spread, and requires online platforms to give their cooperation in removing such content.

Status: Not yet tabled.

3. Philippines

Closer to home, the Philippines’ lawmakers have been actively proposing laws against fake news in both its legislative body Congress’s lower house and upper house — House of Representatives and Senate.

On June 21, 2017, Senator Joel Villanueva filed the Senate Bill No. 1942, a proposed law penalising the malicious distribution of “false news”, which he defined as having four elements: having malicious intent; must be published online, on print, or broadcast; may cause panic, chaos, violence, hate or spread propaganda to discredit one’s reputation; and with the source knowing that the information or news is false.

He proposed that anyone found guilty of offering, publishing or distributing false news to be penalised with a maximum fine of five million pesos (RM374,126) and maximum five-year jail, while the person assisting will be fined a maximum three million pesos (RM224,475) and jailed a maximum three years.

A public official found guilty of those offences will be liable to double the fine and imprisonment and be perpetually disqualified from holding public office.

He proposed that media outlets or social media platforms and corporation’s officers that fail to remove false news within a reasonable period after knowing its falsity be fined a maximum 20 million pesos (RM1.5 million) and between 10 to 20 years of jail.

On July 20, 2017, House representative Luis Raymund Villafuerte filed House Bill No. 6022 to propose a law prohibiting the creation and distribution of “fake news”, which he defined as purely fabricated content, edited audio or video that results in distortion of facts, and misquotation or false or inaccurate reports of a person’s statement.

Villafuerte’s Bill proposes to bar mass media outlets to publish or aid in the creation and distribution of fake news regardless of whether they know it is false and regardless of their intent, making it illegal for mass media and social media users to deliberately and maliciously create and spread fake news, also making it illegal for them to not retract the false news or publish a correction.

The Bill envisions stiff penalties that increase in severity if it is a repeat offence, with a proposal for mass media outlets which are first-time offenders to be fined one million pesos (RM74,825) and 500,000 pesos (RM37,412) if found guilty of creating and spreading fake news respectively.

Meanwhile, social media users found guilty for the first time for creating fake news will be punished with imprisonment or a fine of 100,000 pesos (RM7,482), or both, and will be fined 50,000 pesos (RM3,741) if found guilty of spreading fake news for the first time.

On February 6, 2018, Senator Grace Poe filed Senate Bill No. 1680 that proposes to amend the law on code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials and employees, saying that government officials must be subjected to higher standards of conduct in their social media use as their information carries the seal of being “official” and the automatic presumption of truthfulness, reliability and accuracy.

Her Bill proposes to make it illegal for a public official — especially those tasked with disseminating information — to publish or spread false news or information through any platform whether in their official or personal capacity.

In October 2017, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has said he believed that a law against fake news will not be passed by Congress, saying that lawmakers should instead focus on increasing the punishment for defamation.

Status: All three Bills pending, none enacted as law yet.

4. Singapore

And for our neighbour down south, its Law and Affairs Home Minister K. Shanmugam last June initially said Singapore is expected to introduce new laws in 2018 to combat fake news after consultation with stakeholders such as those from the legal profession, media profession and tech companies.

Shanmugam had then cited a May 2017 survey, where 91 per cent of 1,617 Singaporeans supported stronger laws to ensure the removal and correction of fake news. Three in four of those polled said they came across fake news at least occasionally and two in three could not tell that something was “fake news” at the first instance.

In a rare move, the Singapore government issued on January 5, 2018 a 21-page Green Paper or public document on the challenges and implications of “Deliberate Online Falsehoods”. Another rare move was the appointment of a parliamentary select committee to examine whether Singapore should enact laws to prevent and combat online falsehoods.

On March 14, the parliamentary select committee kicked off the first day of its ongoing eight-day public hearing, where a total of 79 people will be called in to speak before the committee makes recommendations within months to lawmakers.

During the hearing, global tech giant Facebook highlighted that Singapore already has various laws and regulations dealing with hate speech, defamation and fake news, while microblogging site Twitter said that no single company, governmental or non-governmental actor should be the one that decides what is the truth.

Status: Pending

5. Indonesia

On January 3, 2018, Indonesia launched a new cyber security agency as part of its efforts to deal with online religious extremism, online hate speech, terrorist groups and fake news on social media.

In Malaysia, the federal government said last Wednesday that the Cabinet had approved the proposed law against fake news, and that it would be tabled this week. The Bill’s contents were not made public until the tabling today.