Singapore’s proposed Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act[1] (POFMA) is one of the most extensive approaches set out to combat “fake news”, or disinformation, since the phenomenon gained global public attention following the 2016 US presidential elections. In addition to criminalising certain acts of disinformation, POFMA would grant broad discretionary powers to the executive branch of government to curtail online communications and regulate the platforms that enable them. One key premise that this legislation is based on is the ostensibly large effect of digital disinformation.

…the challenge of disinformation is salient in monoculture environments where power is consolidated in the hands of state, military and private interests. Addressing this challenge, therefore, requires greater democracy, diversity of voices, and participation, not less

The online dissemination of disinformation is indeed a challenge, given the proliferation of online hate, threats to human health and wellbeing, and various forms of cross-border influence in electoral processes. Understanding the key theories in the literature will help us grasp the current body of evidence on the effects of digital information. Situating this evidence in conversation with the broader question of power and democracy, I argue that the challenge of disinformation is salient in monoculture environments where power is consolidated in the hands of state, military and private interests. Addressing this challenge, therefore, requires greater democracy, diversity of voices, and participation, not less.

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Mohan Dutta

Mohan J. Dutta is Dean's Chair Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation (CARE) at Massey University. Previously, he was Provost Chair Professor and Head of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore.