Google has banned political ads in Singapore ahead of elections, an opposition party said Wednesday, sparking accusations the tech giant was “kowtowing” to the tightly-controlled city’s government.
The ban was imposed under controversial new rules aimed at fighting disinformation in the city-state, which critics fear could be used to stifle dissent.
General elections are widely expected within months and weak opposition parties are relying on social media to reach voters in a country where the mainstream media typically backs the long-ruling government.
But the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), a key opposition group, said that Google had refused their request to buy ads on the site.
Google had cited the new regulations, which prohibit adverts seeking to influence public opinion, according to correspondence between the US firm and the party posted on the SDP website by chairman Paul Tambyah.
“We have been highly dependent on social media and the internet to get our message across to the people of Singapore,” Tambyah said in a letter to Google chief executive Sundar Pichai.
“This new policy is alarming and very disappointing.”
Ted Osius, Google’s vice president for government affairs and public policy, replied that banning political ads “was not an easy decision to make”, according to a copy of his letter posted by the party.
Google, which has its regional headquarters in Singapore, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Tambyah’s party does not currently hold any seats in parliament, and the city’s fractious opposition groups are not seen as a threat to the long-ruling People’s Action Party.
Brad Bowyer, a member of another opposition group, the Progress Singapore Party, told AFP it was “very disheartening when the national media is controlled and now social media is kowtowing”.
Bowyer had to put up a correction by one of his Facebook posts last week after authorities ordered him to under the new law.
At the weekend, Facebook posted a correction by a post in Singapore for the first time after receiving an official request.
China has issued new rules banning online video and audio providers from using artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality technologies to produce “fake news.”
The regulation published Friday by China’s cyberspace authority said that both providers and users of online video news and audio services are “not allowed” to use new technologies such as deep learning and virtual reality to create, distribute and broadcast “fake news.”
“Fake news” has been generalised to mean anything from a mistake to a parody or a deliberate misinterpretation of facts.
The rules come into effect on January 1, 2020.
Failure to follow them could be considered a criminal offence, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said, without offering details on punishments.
The rules require videos and audio tracks produced using AI or virtual reality technologies to carry clear labels warning users.
The regulations particularly stressed the dangers of “deepfakes,” or technology that manipulates videos to appear genuine but which depict events or speech that never happened.
Deepfake technologies could “disrupt social order and violate people’s interests, creating political risks and bringing a negative impact on national security and social stability,” the cyberspace authority warned.
Concerns over deepfakes have grown since the 2016 US election campaign which saw wide use of online disinformation, according to US investigations.
China’s top legislative body said earlier this year it was considering making deepfake technology illegal.
A Chinese face-swapping app Zao, which allows users to convincingly superimpose their own likeness over characters in movies or TV shows, led to a heated debate on the abuses of deepfake technologies in September.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has said that the recent move by the Federal Government to regulate the social media space from fake news and hate speech is not aimed at gagging the media.
Mr Mohammed made this known when he received the National Executives of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) led by its President, Christopher Isiguzo on a courtesy visit in Abuja.
He said that if the NUJ and other media professional bodies, they should reach out and engages the government, instead of rushing to the media to condemn the move to protect the integrity of the media.
“As a professional body for journalists, the NUJ has its code of ethics for journalists, and this guides their operation. To the best of my knowledge, the trained, professional journalists cannot afford to engage in fake news, because this will kill public trust in the media. They also cannot afford to engage in hate speech, because of its implication for national peace and unity. After all, there has to be a country before you can even practice your profession.
“When we announced the plan to regulate the social media, we said clearly that the regulation is not an attempt to gag the media or muzzle free speech; we said journalists have nothing to fear.”
Mr Mohammed urged media practitioners to lead in sanitizing the social media space because they will be the first victim when the people lose confidence in the media due to the reckless actions of non-journalists and purveyors of fake news and hate speech.
“We will not unilaterally impose measures aimed at injecting sanity into the social media space. We will work with stakeholders, including the NUJ, Guild of Editors, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria, the Civil Society, Online Publishers, Bloggers, etc.
“Already, we have dispatched letters to these stakeholders. A government that has the intention of gagging the media won’t engage stakeholders in dialogue on the way forward.”
He explained that the Federal Government has taken the initiative to adopt the use of technology, legislation and regulatory bodies, but it is up to the stakeholders to decide the best option.
“But we have also taken the initiative to meet, very soon, with the platform owners, like Facebook, Whatsapp, Google, Twitter and Instagram, among others, to engage them on the way forward.
“But I must say that rushing to reject the plan without bothering to understand what it entails is not helpful, and constitutes panic reaction.”
Mr Mohammed stated that the Federal Government will still go ahead with the plan to stop purveyors of fake news and hate speeches. Adding that, no responsible government will allow such acts to reign freely.
“Since we launched our reform of the broadcast industry, many Nigerians have reached out to us, demanding that we also look into how to sanitise the Social Media space. I can assure you that we are also working on how to inject sanity into the Social Media space which, today, is totally out of control,” he said.
Mohammed added that no responsible government would sit back and allow activities such as fake news and hate speech, which is capable of setting the country on fire, to continue unchecked.
“No responsible government will sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to dominate its media space, because of the capacity of this menace to exploit our national fault lines to set us against each other and trigger a national conflagration.
“That is why we will continue to evolve ways to tackle fake news and hate speech until we banish both,” he said.
Mohammed had earlier disclosed that a committee has been set up to implement the recommendations approved by President Buhari on tackling hate speech and fake news.
He said hate speech and fake news are the ‘Siamese twins of evil’, and no responsible government will sit by and allow such to rule the airwaves.
Find below the full speech of the Minister’s address:
TEXT OF PRESS BRIEFING BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, IN ABUJA ON TUESDAY, 29 OCT. 2019
As usual, let me start by thanking you, gentlemen, for always responding to our invitation and for your usually-reliable reports after our briefings
– Today’s briefing, as you would imagine, is on the National Campaign Against Fakes News and Hate Speech, which we launched last July. Within the context of that campaign, I recently launched an effort to rid our airwaves of fake news and hate speech. Specifically, I set up a committee on the implementation of the recommendations that were approved by Mr. President to inject sanity into the nation’s broadcast industry, following the unprofessional and unethical conduct of some broadcast stations, especially before and during the last general elections.
The highlights of the recommendations are as follows: i) Independence of the NBC from political interference in the exercise of its regulatory powers, particularly with respect to the issuance and withdrawal of broadcasting license. ii) A review of the National Broadcasting Code and extant broadcasting laws to reflect the following amendments; Upward review of fines from N500,000 to N5,000,000 for breaches relating to hate speeches, inciting comments and indecency. Wilful repeat of infractions on three occasions after levying fine on a station to attract suspension of license. Upgrade of breach of political comments relating to hate speeches and divisive comments to ”Class A” offence in the Broadcasting Code. Amendment of the NBC Act to enable NBC license WebTv and radio stations. iii) Recruitment of more monitoring staff for the NBC. At the moment, there are only about 200 Staff monitoring about 1,000 radio and television stations. iv) Deployment of adequate monitoring equipment and technologies for the NBC and, finally… v) Enhancement of welfare packages of NBC staff to avoid their compromise in the line of duty
Gentlemen, the committee is also saddled with ending all forms of monopoly detrimental to the actualization of the immense potential of the broadcast industry. A situation where a few people corner a chunk of the industry to the detriment of others, especially our teeming and talented youths is totally unacceptable and untenable.
Once the committee submits its report, we will immediately kick-start the implementation of the approved measures to inject sanity into our broadcast industry.
Gentlemen, since I launched the committee on the implementation of the approved measures, there have been reactions. Many have hailed our efforts at seeking to bring sanity to the airwaves, while some have attacked us and accused us of trying to stifle press freedom or gag journalists.
In the first instance, let me say this. No amount of attacks, sponsored or otherwise, will stop the implementation of the approved recommendations. And only non-patriots and anarchists will kick against measures aimed at putting an end to fake news and hate speech, especially in our broadcast industry.
But, as I have been saying, we have no intention of stifling free speech or gagging journalists or anyone. Again, this Administration has no intention of muzzling the media or stifling free speech. Our campaign is against fake news and hate speech. However, if you engage in disseminating fake news or hate speech, you need to be worried, because we will not spare you. We cannot allow fake news and hate speech to become free speech, because these Siamese Twins of Evil are capable of inflicting untold damage on our democracy and threatening our national unity. They represent a clear and imminent danger to our survival as a nation.
As for monopolies, they stunt growth, kill talents and discourage creativity. The clearest example of the creative energy that can be unleashed when monopoly is totally broken can be seen in the telecommunications industry. Of course, the broadcast industry has also been liberalised. But any vestige of monopoly is antithetical to the liberalisation of the broadcast industry and must be dismantled. In the case of Nigeria, it’s the monopoly of content that breeds anti-competition practices.
Gentlemen, since we launched our reform of the broadcast industry, many Nigerians have reached out to us, demanding that we also look into how to sanitize the Social Media space. I can assure you that we are also working on how to inject sanity into the Social Media space which, today, is totally out of control
No responsible government will sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to dominate its media space, because of the capacity of this menace to exploit our national fault lines to set us against each other and trigger a national conflagration. That is why we will continue to evolve ways to tackle fake news and hate speech until we banish both.
Therefore, Gentlemen, we once again seek your support for our efforts to banish fake news and hate speech from our media space.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has said that a committee has been set up to implement the recommendations approved by President Muhammadu Buhari on tackling hate speech and fake news.
Mr. Mohammed who disclosed this during a meeting with online publishers in Lagos on Sunday said that hate speech and fake news are the ‘Siamese twins of evil’, and no responsible government will sit by and allow such to rule the airwaves.
He called on online publishers to support the national campaign and fight the menace which he claimed, is getting worse.
“Let me be clear: we didn’t think the issue will suddenly disappear, but we also didn’t think it will get worse, which is what it is now. In fact, it remains a clear and imminent danger to the polity.
“No responsible government will sit by and allow fake news and hate speech to rule the airwaves, because of the capacity of this menace to exploit our national fault lines to set us against each other and trigger a national conflagration. That is why we will continue to evolve ways to tackle fake news and hate speech until we banish both.”
Mr. Mohammed gave the highlights of the approved recommendations which includes; Independence of the NBC from political interference in the exercise of its regulatory powers, Upward review of fines from N500,000 to N5,000,000 for breaches relating to hate speeches.
He added that the committee has been tasked to end the issue of monopoly in the broadcast industry, and no amount of coordinated attack will whittle down the implementation of the recommendations.
“Let me be straight: No amount of attacks sponsored or otherwise will stop the implementation of the approved recommendations. And only non-patriots and anarchists will kick against measures aimed at putting an end to fake news and hate speech, especially in our broadcast industry.
“Only those who are guilty should be afraid of the efforts to sanitize the broadcast industry. Responsible broadcasters have nothing to fear. This is not a move to stifle free speech or gag anyone. But purveyors of fake news and hate speech should not expect to sleep easy.”
As uncannily realistic “deep fake” videos proliferate online, including one recently retweeted by Donald Trump, journalism schools are scrambling to adapt to an era of misinformation — or fake news.
Experts discussed how to train tomorrow’s reporters for these new challenges at the World Journalism Education Congress in Paris last week.
The three-day event — “Teaching Journalism During a Disruptive Age” — was attended by 600 educators and researchers from 70 countries.
“We have journalism educators from places as different as Bangladesh and Uganda, but essentially we all face the same challenges,” congress organiser Pascal Guenee, head of IPJ Dauphine journalism school in Paris, told AFP.
In China, the government makes no secret of its tight grip on the media.
But fake news is seeping into traditional media via Weibo, WeChat and other Chinese-language social media platforms, said journalism professor Peiqin Chen of the Shanghai International Studies University.
“When someone posts false information on Weibo, it can be reposted by a mainstream newspaper’s Weibo account,” she said. “Other mainstream media pick up on it from there.”
“Mainstream media play the biggest role in confirming and spreading fake news in China,” she added.
For politics or profit
It was US President Donald Trump who first popularised the phrase “fake news” in attacks on the news media.
But in May, Trump tweeted a video of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi which appeared to have been edited to focus on sections of a speech in which she stuttered and mispronounced certain words.
“Pelosi stammers through news conference,” he wrote.
Another doctored Pelosi video, which went viral online, slowed down her speech to give the impression she was drunk.
The motivation behind fake news is not always political, said Gifty Appiah-Adjei from the University of Education in Ghana.
“Often it is for financial gain by creating internet traffic, or it’s entertainment,” she told AFP. “And some people write fake stories just for fun.”
Journalism education “is the most effective means by which fake news can be addressed”, she argued.
Until recently, however, how to detect and counter fake news has rarely been taught as a stand-alone course at journalism schools, she said.
Checking sources has “always been part of the curriculum,” said Kamilla Nigmatullina, senior lecturer at Russia’s Saint Petersburg State University.
But today’s ever-more sophisticated misinformation — including doctored videos and photos — requires a fresh approach.
“Journalism schools in China give some courses in fact-checking, but the academic material we study is based on research in other countries,” said Chen.
“China still has a long way to go.”
But for Nigmatullina, we do not need to develop a whole new discipline.
Technology not the answer
“What we do need is joint research with scholars from different disciplines,” she told AFP.
“We could work with neuroscience students, for example, to determine why people decide to share certain information.”
In one project organised by the European Journalism Training Association (EJTA), students from almost 20 journalism schools in 13 countries participated in the fact-checking of articles in the run-up to the European Union elections.
One of the aims, said project manager Nadia Vissers from the Artesis Plantijn University in Belgium, was to learn the difference between “misinformation” and “disinformation”.
“Misinformation is false information spread without the intention to cause harm,” she explained. “Disinformation has the intention of spreading lies and influencing people.”
Misleading information in the media, for example, about migration, climate change and Brexit was classified as “mostly true”, “mostly false”, “false” or “uncheckable”.
The project runs on a shoe-string budget, said Vissers, because “we don’t want any funding from Facebook or Google”.
“The goal is to train journalists,” said Eric Nahon, deputy head of IPJ Dauphine and chair of the panel discussion.
“Technological solutions are not the answer — we need educated journalists.”
Sri Lankan social networks saw a surge in fake news after the Easter suicide bombings a month ago despite an official social media blackout, highlighting the inability of governments to contain disinformation, experts said.
A nine-day ban on platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp was introduced following the Islamic State-claimed attacks on churches and hotels on April 21 which killed 258 people and wounded nearly 500.
Many anxious social media users switched to virtual private networks (VPNs) or the TOR network to bypass the order and keep communication open with friends and relatives as the extent of the carnage became clear.
But for others, the tools were a means to spread confusion and vitriol as the island struggled to come to terms with one of the worst terror attacks in its history.
Sanjana Hattotuwa, who monitors social media for fake news at the Centre for Policy Alternatives in Colombo, said the government blackout had failed to prevent “engagement, production, sharing and discussion of Facebook content”, and that he had seen a significant increase in false reports.
AFP has published half a dozen fact-checks debunking false claims made on Facebook and Twitter after the Easter attacks.
Some had dug out photos of coffins and funerals from Sri Lanka’s brutal decades-long civil war and claimed they showed victims of the blasts.
One video posted to Facebook showed police arresting a man dressed in a burqa and claimed he was involved in the bombings. The video was actually from 2018 and showed a man who had used a burqa to hide his identity while he sought to attack someone over a debt issue.
Another used a five-year-old photo from India that showed a group of men wearing T-shirts with “ISIS”, another name for Islamic State, written on them to claim there was an active IS cell in eastern Sri Lanka.
One Twitter user claiming to be a high-ranking Sri Lankan army brigadier used the platform to accuse neighbouring India of being involved in the attacks. The account was later taken down by Twitter after the Sri Lankan army complained.
Authorities in Sri Lanka — where ethnic divisions still linger after decades of war — previously blocked Facebook in March 2018 after Buddhist hardliners used incendiary posts to fan religious violence that left three people dead and reduced several hundred homes and shops to ashes.
The surge in fake news has further blemished the troubled reputation of social media — which several years ago had been seen as a means to expand freedom of information — in the region.
In India, authorities have temporarily shut down mobile networks or blocked social media apps during riots, while critics say the spread of hate speech via Facebook was crucial in facilitating a brutal 2017 military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.
Since the attacks, Sri Lankan authorities have imposed other short bans on social media, including earlier this month after mobs in the northwestern town of Chilaw attacked Muslim-owned businesses in anger at a Facebook post by a shopkeeper.
But for those unaware of the government ban or unable to circumvent it, the blocking of social media in the days following the attacks was a cause for panic.
A Sydney-based engineer was desperate to call his sister in Colombo soon after hearing about the Easter blasts, but could not get through.
“I kept calling her on WhatsApp, but there was no reply. We are so used to calling on WhatsApp, I had forgotten her landline number,” the Sri Lankan-born engineer said.
Fortunately, he said, he managed to call a friend in Colombo who was using a VPN to access WhatsApp and told him about the social media ban that prevented him from reaching his sister.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has cautioned party members, supporters and the general public on what it has described as fake news being spread in the social media on the upcoming Kogi and Bayelsa State governorship elections.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Lanre Issa-Onilu, in a statement on Monday, noted that the party had initially ignored the “fake statements” but it became necessary to debunk them, “particularly many of such statements being ascribed to the Party and the National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole”.
According to the spokesperson, neither the party nor the National Chairman has made any statement at any forum regarding the elections and he described the reports making the rounds as “mere fabrications intended for mischief”.
He further stated that in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s vision for the country and the APC’s continued effort towards deepening participatory democracy, the National Working Committee (NWC) will abide by the rules at every stage of the process of primary elections.
The party also promised to provide a level playing field to all aspirants, while adding that all relevant information and the official party guidelines for the respective elections will be released through its official channels in due course.
The Kaduna State Governor, Nasiru El-Rufai, has cautioned Nigerians against the spread of fake news.
His statement follows death rumours from alleged involvement in a car accident.
The governor stated this during a welcome dinner organised for him by members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) after his arrival from a one week holiday abroad.
He said he was never involved in any car accident or in a coma as speculated on social media.
He explains that he took a break and travelled abroad to rest after his re-election as governor, only to hear about his involvement in a car accident that led to the death of his driver, while he went into a coma.
He, however, advised Nigerians to avoid spreading false and unsubstantiated stories that are capable of overheating the polity on the social media, adding that those who spread the rumour of his death are playing God.
The governor also criticised the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, over his claim that he won the February 23 poll in Kaduna and not Buhari, adding that Abubakar might have won the election in his dream.
While thanking the majority of people of Kaduna state for reelecting him as governor, El-Rufai promises to be fair and just to all citizens and zones in the state regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliations.
Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka have raised concerns regarding fake news and its devastating effects at this time in our history.
Prof Osinbajo said fake news is capable of discrediting public information and causing fatal damage and violence in the country.
Delivering a keynote address at the BBC conference on fake news in Abuja, Prof. Osinbajo warned that, if fake news is not checked, we might come to a point when nothing will be believable.
He said the issue of fake news becomes more troubling owing to the ability to manipulate news items through technology.
Aside from the damage done to the credibility and integrity of Public information, Osinbajo said the capacity of fake news to cause alarm and fear and even fatal violence, has been demonstrated again and again.
“One of the great worries for us should be what harm is done to public information. I think that the time may come where if nothing is done, nothing will be believed or be believable because as technology improves its capacity to manipulate, after a while there would be perfect videos using artificial intelligence and all of the other tools of digital technology,” the Vice President said.
Speaking also at the event, Prof Wole Soyinka warned about the adverse effects of fake news, noting that it is capable of causing a 3rd world war.
The Nobel Laureate alongside other panelists at the event unanimously agreed that fake news needs to be criminalized as a way of curbing the menace.
He said, “People do not understand what is like to have things attributed to you which you know nothing about.
“Apart from the fact that I have been killed on social media several times. These last years I had telephone calls asking me where are you and I said I am in a hall. And I said I know why you are calling because you thought I was dead.
“Imagine waking up one day and finding a statement attributed to you and in a kind of language which you never used. For example, during former President Good luck Jonathan, there were statements that I said why did Jonathan marry an illiterate woman. I never made comments like that whatsoever”.
“And I made a statement that if people are not careful world war 3 may quickly be started by fake news and that fake news probably will be generated by a Nigerian. We have a system where fake news can multiply in a second. Many of the fake news carriers use it for Business.
“I have someone whom we have tracked down in Poland, using a fake Facebook page of my name and my picture. And I give him a deadline to pull down the page. He lives in the United States of America but lives in Poland. He is a member of an organization called some AIESEC which actually encourages young businessmen and women.
“The first thing is to accept the fact that fake news is real and people should stop rushing to the fake sites. Individuals who have no voice before have been empowered suddenly. Every individual is now a journalist, editor promoter and most of all a publisher. There is competition to be the first to comment. So the ‘419’ individuals sleep in cafes doing all sorts of things. Fake news should be treated as a crime. When you pin down one of such criminals it should be a case of INTERPOL because they move all over the place. They should be advertised as criminals and get the police to arrest them.
“I had complained about this to a former inspector general of police that this has to do with personal security, community security. I had expected him to reply but there was no response. Not even acknowledgment.
“This should be a collective responsibility. Above all, we should treat it like a crime”.
Influential German news weekly Der Spiegel, shaken by a scandal over a reporter who admitted faking stories for years, said it has suspended two senior editors.
The contracts of Ullrich Fichtner, an editor in chief, and Matthias Geyer, a chief editor, have been “suspended until the (magazine’s) internal commission has completed its investigation into the affair,” the editor in chief Steffen Klusmann said in an internal letter, of which AFP obtained a copy on Friday.
On December 19, Der Spiegel stunned the media world by revealing that one of its award-winning reporters had for years falsified stories.
Claas Relotius, 33, resigned this month after admitting he had made up stories and invented protagonists in more than a dozen articles in the magazine’s print and online editions.
“The Relotius affair raises the question as to whether” Ullrich and Fichtner “can continue in their jobs after such a disaster,” said Klusmann.
“The first discovered it for Der Spiegel, the second hired him and was until recently his superior.”
“We could now hold to account anyone who has dealt with Relotius, and that could continue up to the top of the hierarchy,” he said.
Der Spiegel said on December 23 a criminal complaint would be filed against Relotius after it emerged he may also have embezzled donations intended for Syrian street children.