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Singapore questions social media giants over 'online falsehoods'

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A Singapore parliamentary committee on Thursday spent hours questioning representatives from social media and tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google, over their policies and role in managing "deliberate online falsehoods".

Facebook's Asia-Pacific vice-president of public policy Simon Milner, specifically, faced what he himself described as a "tough Q&A[1]" with Singapore's Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

Asked why Facebook users were not informed earlier about the Cambridge Analytica breach[2], Milner acknowledged it was a wrong[3] call and pointed to CEO Mark Zuckerberg's admission[4] that the company had made mistakes. He added that the social media should have notified users and taken further steps to ensure the data was deleted.

Shanmugam said Facebook's demeanour was similar to how train tickets previously were sold, where all liabilities would be removed on the part of the train operator, reported local broadcaster Channel NewsAsia[5]. Such behaviour, he said, underscored the need for regulations to ensure companies in a dominant position could not deny all liabilities.

The minister also asked if the social platform would remove falsehood, to which Milner noted that Facebook did not have a policy stating that everything posted on the site was "true, verified, and accurate".

The company also did not put itself in a position of deciding what was true, he added, but noted that it would respect a court order instructing a piece of content to be removed.

On whether legislation was needed to deal with "deliberate online falsehoods", Milner said this would not be a "silver bullet" and highlighted the need to discuss where and how regulations should apply, and to what they applied.

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