SINGAPORE (Apr 2): Is it time for Facebook, Twitter and Google to be held responsible for the news and information that they carry on their platforms? Media companies that have watched these platforms eat their lunch over the past decade might be inclined to argue that it is, of course. Yet, governments are beginning to recognise the risk posed by false information and fake news on their economies and societies too.

Over the past three weeks, Singapore held a series of parliamentary committee hearings on how it should deal with “deliberate online falsehoods”. The high point of these hearings was arguably on March 22, when representatives of tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google as well as industry association Asia Internet Coalition turned up to testify. As it happened, their testimonies came just as news broke that Cambridge Analytica had harvested private information from Facebook profiles of more than 50 million people and tried to use the data to influence the outcome of the 2016 US election. In fact, only the night before their testimonies, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg had made a statement on the whole affair that left many observers unimpressed.

Simon Milner, vice-president of public policy for Asia-Pacific at Facebook, found himself being grilled for three hours by Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam. Among other things, Milner was pressed on why the company had not revealed more information about the data breach earlier. Shanmugam also went on to ask Milner if Facebook’s policies require it to take down content that is shown to be false. Milner responded to say that Facebook would respect a court order. Shanmugam subsequently said, “Now, of course, the courts can only act based on legislation. You realise that?” Milner replied, “I do realise that and I understand where you’re heading.”

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