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The dilemma of balancing free speech and access to accurate information in the era of 'fake news'

Author: Dr Luis Franceschi, in Daily Nation (Kenya), Published on: 8 July 2019

"Fake News: the submission of the masses through manipulation"

Safaricom’s memo announcing Bob Collymore’s passing on spread like fire. My first reaction was “this must be fake”. A few hours before, a fake Ipsos poll had been circulating as well as a fake assassination plot letter. How can we differentiate truth from falsehood? Fake news is no news…and is not new...

A few years ago, I explained that new technologies have accelerated the speed at which fake news spread. Technology has made lying easier, faster and more credible. Fake news has become a major trait of our generation. In the past, lies spread by word of mouth. Today, fake news spreads like fire. It is vital to take extra care to ensure that the greater population can ascertain what is true from what is not...

Singapore has also reacted to the fake news menace. The Government recently passed a Fake News Act which came into force five weeks ago. The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) protects civilians against fake news. Critics argue that POFMA poses a serious threat to civil liberties; there is a huge challenge on how to go about implementing the rules, especially on how to access encrypted messages such as WhatsApp...

It appears fake news is the most worrying modern disease. You may be as liberal as France or as conservative as Singapore. The scary bit is how to balance access to free speech and access to information with truth and the definition of fake. In such liberal times as the ones we live in, where everything seems to be allowed and relative, defining ‘fake’ may become the first objective truth. Who will dare? Governments, social media companies or citizens?

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