With rising number of online platforms passing off falsehoods as “citizen journalism”, individuals are increasingly empowered by social media to harass organisations. This has created a possibility of amending the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) to include entities such as the Government, said legal experts.organisations. This has created a possibility of amending the Protection from Harassment Act (Poha) to include entities such as the Government, said legal experts.
Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University, who had participated in the debates on the anti-harassment Bill as a Nominated Member of Parliament in 2014 said - Poha, if applied to non-natural persons, will “fill a lacuna in the law”.
“Otherwise, a public body might have to spend (an) inordinate (amount of) time and other limited resources to defend itself ... In today’s world of pervasive social media, the ability of an individual to harass an organisation is real and the real threat posed by false information cannot be underestimated,” he added.
Associate Professor Tan commented on the possibility of Poha being amended and said - it is not a question of whether entities require protection from harassment and falsehoods, but about protecting public bodies from having to devote resources in what may amount to a “war of attrition”, and ensure as little misinformation as possible.
“There is little social value in protecting speech designed to harass or perpetuate falsehoods,” he added.
Sunil Sudheesan, the president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore agreed with Prof Tan and said, “Online harassment, such as through the publication of false statements, has become a bigger issue these days. I think everyone, (including) persons, companies, associations, governments, is entitled to equal protection from falsehoods.”
Sudheesan also noted that Poha is “not just about physical or online harassment”.
“Perhaps many ignore falsehoods posted online to avoid the escalation of matters. But some take a very determined and principled approach to correct them, and no one can fault them for doing that,” he said.
The Court of Appeal had ruled in a 2-1 split decision last week that government agencies do not fall under the legal definition of “persons” in Section 15 of the Poha. This allows the court to order the publisher of a false statement to bring the falsehood to readers’ attention.
Involving the Ministry of Defence, the case concerned the comments made by a medical device firm’s co-founder, which were published on socio-political website The Online Citizen, over an alleged patent infringement involving.
Further, Ministry of Law clarified following the judgment that the Government’s intent in enacting the statute is to allow both human beings as well as the Government and corporations to rely on Section 15 of Poha.
It also said the Government would consider what further steps it should take to correct the deliberate spreading of falsehoods.