The representatives of social media companies Facebook, Twitter, Google, the Asia Internet Coalition were questioned over their effectiveness in acting on false content by the Singapore’s Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods on Thursday, 22 March.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam can be seen grilling Simon Milner, Facebook’s Asia-Pacific vice-president of public policy in a video clip from the session.
Even though the session was on fake news, Shanmugam asked Milner several questions on Cambridge Analytica – the data mining firm accused of harvesting personal information from Facebook illegally to influence polls in several countries.
“You accept that the information has been illegitimately accessed, correct?” Shanmugam asked. Responding to this, Milner who is seen to be thrown off guard said, “This committee is discussing the issue of deliberate online falsehoods here in Singapore… I don’t think it’s fair to ask me detailed questions about evidence given to a different parliament in a different country about activities associated with that country”.
Milner’s words were not taken lightly by the chair of the committee, Charles Chong who shot back saying, “I think you should leave it to us to decide what is relevant and what is not relevant. But if you are unable to answer questions because you don’t know or because you don’t want to, you should say so”.
Maintaining his cool, Shanmugam then went onto telling Milner about the relevance of his inquiry in the Cambridge Analytica data breach.
“The questions before the UK parliament were very relevant in exploring the degree to which you can be trusted, Facebook can be trusted to answer questions when asked, Facebook can be trusted to be a reliable partner… or whether you will do everything that you can to give lawyered answers,” he said.
He also told him that it was a review of Facebook stand from 2015 to 2018. He asked Milner why Facebook did not accept the data breach publicly earlier. “To what extent can we trust all your protestations that you can be trusted to follow your internal guidelines?”