What is an ‘opinion’, and what is a ‘fact’?

Government ministers have been saying this past week that the fake news legislation does not deal with opinions (among other things like criticisms and so on), but that it only deals with “false statement of facts”.

Questions have been raised about what a “statement of fact” is. So, I won’t go into that per se.

What I’d like to ask is: what is an opinion? And more importantly perhaps, what is an opinion in the eye of the govt, in particular its ministers who – each and every one of them – are given powers under the fake news law to order a removal of content.

For a start, the dictionary defines “opinion” as “a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge”.

“that, in my opinion, is right”

synonyms: belief, judgement, thought(s), school of thought, thinking, way of thinking, mind, point of view, view, viewpoint, outlook, angle, slant, side, attitude, stance, perspective, position, standpoint; theory, tenet, conclusion, verdict, estimation, thesis, hypothesis, feeling, sentiment, impression, reflections, idea, notion, assumption, speculation, conception, conviction, contention, persuasion, creed, dogma
“she did not share her husband’s opinion”

Note that the first synonym for “opinion” is “belief”.

So, an opinion is not dissimilar to a “belief”; and an opinion may not be based on facts. (Indeed, if I am a believer in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, so what?)

So, what would a PAP minister regard as an opinion (belief)? Must it be based on facts?

Indeed it does! At least according to one minister who said exactly that in Parliament.

In March 2018, during the quarrel over Workers’ Party MP Sylvia Lim’s “test balloon” remarks in Parliament, Leader of the House and MCCY Minister Grace Fu took issue with Ms Lim’s assertion that the govt had put out “test balloons” on raising the GST.

Ms Fu demanded Ms Lim apologised.

Ms Lim said she arrived at that “suspicion” based on ” a sequence of events”.

She stood by her remarks and rejected the demand for an apology.

“I do not accept the over-characterisation the PAP Ministers have put on my words and intentions, based on their own interpretation borne out of over-active imagination and over-sensitivity,” Ms Lim said.

Ms Fu, who said Ms Lim had not gotten her “facts” right, said that even if it was her (Ms Lim’s) suspicion, “honest belief requires factual basis.”

So, it is pertinent to ask, given ministers’ recent remarks on the fake news Bill: what exactly is an opinion? Must it be based on facts – all the time? And if it is not, it will be considered a “false statement of fact”?

If an opinion is a belief, and a belief – according to ministers like Ms Fu – must have “factual basis”, then isn’t that the same as saying an opinion must also, in fact, be a statement of fact?

And if it does, how then is an opinion excluded from the fake news law?

Is saying: “Older generation is not ready for a non-Chinese PM” – as Minister Heng Swee Keat recently claimed – a statement of fact, or an honest belief with factual basis? Or is it Mr Heng’s suspicion?

And incidentally, this “test balloon” episode in Parliament shows how a petty, thin-skinned govt can turn an innocuous remarks into a serious matter.

Ministers who “over-characterise” an opinion “based on their own interpretation borne out of over-active imagination and over-sensitivity.”

That’s the danger with the wide-ranging fake news law, isn’t it?

 

Andrew Loh

 

 

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19 Responses to “What is an ‘opinion’, and what is a ‘fact’?”

  • opposition dude:

    Very simple one, opinion is when we say something online without proof. Fact is got proof.

    Let me use something well known to all of us as an opinion.

    We all love saying cost of living here is high. No one disputes this. But knowing PAP they will ask you guys for the facts and you guys will point out the 30% water price increase, transport hike and all that. But PAP will say that water price must increase because it hasn’t been increased in donkey years and there is also a 50 cent discount on the MRT if you tap in before 7.45am.

    Fact is something that minister has said and cannot be denied. An excellent example below.

    Lawrence Wong’s (AHEM!) statement on flats being returned to the government after 99 years. This is an undeniable and undisputable FACT which even PAP won’t argue with you nor try to deny it since they are the ones who said it.

    So, an opinion is basically something you said versus a FACT that some minister has said. Simple, really.

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  • trublus are hurting:

    our sg is not a ‘safe’ place anymore.
    gone are the days when trublus were happy and carefree…
    everything’s changed for the worse.
    not liking it at all.

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  • oxygen:

    THAT THE PROPOSED FAKE NEWS POFM LEGISLATION promises “clear oversight mechanism” is primae facie evidence that it is INHERENTLY FLAWED of construct OF DOUBTFUL ASSERTION OF EASY CLEAR CUT TRUTH/FALSITY DIFFERENTIATION.

    The claim that “Truth is not malleable – either something is true or it is not true” IS SELF INSTRUCTIVE IT IS PATENTLY FALSE.

    https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/proposed-law-on-falsehoods-has-clear-oversight-mechanism-to-11438132

    Plenty of evidences exist to easily refute that. For example, CPF is FUTURE retirement money BUT IT IS ALLOWED TO BRING FORWARD OF FUTURE CONSUMPTION TO SPEND NOW ON PROPERTY SPECULATION.

    I have compelling apprehension that – LIKE IT OR NOT – the public mind will think POFM legislation is ITSELF A FAKE CONSTRUCT of “TRUST-ME-I-AM-A-CONSUMMATED-CUNNING-LIAR” legislative creation and therefore implicitly ‘YOU-TRUST-ME,YOU-ARE-A-FOOL” ploy.

    Which other legislation needs to confess that it needs A PUBLICLY-CONFESSED “clear oversight mechanism” if it is really so clear cut of legality enforcement (of truth/falsity dichotomy)??

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  • NotMyProblem:

    From Law Minister K Shanmugam “Ninety-nine per cent of the people don’t have to worry about what they do 99 per cent of the time.”

    “What do I mean? Most of us receive messages, we share them, we forward them, people like them, none of that is an issue. And if it turns out to be false, the primary approach is to ask the tech platforms to put up a clarification that’s pushed to everyone.”

    …..

    The battle is over the 1 per cent: “The people who profit from and peddle in falsehoods. They put out (information) knowing that it’s false and they know that they are going to profit from it. They are doing it deliberately, they are setting it out, there is some element of malice.”

    So;…

    Leong Sze Hian shared a link to an article on his Facebook page, without comment or amendment, that had been published; so was this an issue, and did Mr. Leong profited from it? So was Mr. Leong in the 99% or the 1%?

    GRC was supposed to ensure minority representation in Parliament. But it was ruled, that is only for the time of election. After election, no need. So who profited from this GRC, when Chinese, majority race, used this to enter Parliament? Supposed to be for the minority races, but the Chinese profited from it!

    An Indian was used as a Malay President. Anyone profited from it? The Indians or the Malays? No, it was a Chinese!!

    So who are those likely to be in the 1%? But it will the 99% need to be worry. There are so many Ministers in PAP, not everyone will think alike!! One may think 1+1=2, another will think 1+1=11, another prefers 4 is 5!!

    So the 99%, start to worry!! If you don’t like to worry, vote them out!!

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  • Bapak:

    Whatever they like to hear is opinion. Whatever they dont like to hear is fake.

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  • oxygen:

    WHICH OF THESE IS OPINION AND WHICH IS FACT? I google this online. It comes from CPF BOARD, no less in reply of a question

    What is CPF investment Scheme?

    “The CPF Investment Scheme (CPFIS) gives you an option to invest your Ordinary Account (OA) and Special Account (SA) savings in a wide range of investments to enhance your retirement nest egg.

    If you are not confident of investing on your own, you should leave your money in your CPF account which earns risk-free interest.”

    In plain simple English, CPF is NOT an investment scheme to generate higher return. IT IS ACTUALLY RETIREMENT ACCOUNT and you should leave it there to earn risk-free interest.”

    If CPF is retirement account, NOT AN INVESTMENT VEHICLE (which CPFB self-contradicted of its relevance to enhance retirement nest eggs), why let members take it out to risks for higher return – given the uncertainty inherent in higher return dreamland fantasy of BOTH fact and opinion?

    SO WHEN DOES A FACT ASSERTED online TRAVELS TO AN OPINION TERRAIN AND THE REVERSE in this windy happy contradiction from CPF Board?

    SO IS THIS ASSERTION CORRECT?

    Law Minister, Shanmugam: Truth is not malleable – either something is true or it is not true”

    The statement of fact and opinion OF CPF IS AN INVESTMENT AND RETIREMENT FUND traverse to both TRUTHS AND FALSITY IN SELF-CONTRADICTION!!

    OR AM I STILL WRONG???

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  • oxygen:

    The weblink to CPFB answer to its Q & A of “What is CPF Investment Scheme” referred to above is here.

    https://www.cpf.gov.sg/Members/Schemes/schemes/optimising-my-cpf/cpf-investment-schemes

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  • Jman:

    A fact is something one can prove with documents, or an event to which there exists a credible witness.

    An opinion is one’s view about something. Some say it doesn’t need to be backed by fact. I would think yes and no. Yes, because if one’s view is that another is corrupt, that had better be backed by facts as this can amount to slander/libel. No, because if one’s view is that the food is not tasty, that might not need to be backed by fact as nobody is going to due one for not finding a certain food tasty.

    With the General Elections likely later this year, we are going to get another big blast of unsupported opinions making its rounds masqueraded as fact. Personally, I think people who repeat these should be taught a lesson. There is always so much garbage going around before every GE.

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  • Facts of Dollars & Sense:

    It was in the old days ….
    Hoseh took his ordinary donkey to the market place and sold it for 30 dollars.

    The man who bought it immediately put it up for auction.

    “Look at this fine animal!” he shouted to passersby. “Have you ever seen a better specimen of a donkey? See how clean and strong it is!”

    And he went on to list the many qualities of the animal. At the end of his Sales Talk a man said he would pay 40 dollars for it. But nother man offered 50. And a third offered 55.

    Hoseh was watching the sales pitch; he was amazed at the interest everyone was showing in his donkey!
    “What a fool I was to think it an ordinary animal,” he thought to himself. “It is an incomparable beast, one in a million…” He suddenly realized the owner had received another good offer and was about to close the bidding.

    “75 dollars once…” announced the auctioneer, “75 dollars twice…”

    “80 dollars I’ll take my donkey back!” shouted Hoseh.

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  • LIONS:

    Ya,opinion can neither be simply be classified as REAL OR FAKE it is neither in the first place.

    Thus,it is my humble but firm opinion that the FAKE NEWS law is going to be UNFAIRLY IMPOSED ONTO GOOD sgs who will be giving their fair opinions about some of the UNFAIR GOVT POLICIES N POLICY PRACTICES.

    It is oso my opinion that many of the gahmen who state FAKE NEWS like FTs creates more jobs for sgs would not punished but those who stand up for sgs might get punished unfairly instead.

    So,in my opinion the FAKENESS OF THE FAKE NEWS law is REAL.
    CAN ANY FAIR sgs say not?

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  • RDB:

    Fake mind will always view truths from people as fake when it does not fulfill their bias minds. Thus, they are then the very falsehood and they don’t know it from thinking about the money they are paid for their just being a yes person to their master. Who incidentally did use it as an excuse that if he did not raise minister and mps salary. he has difficulty in getting people to even just become his pap mp! Oh ma ma!

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  • blind leading the blind:

    PAP is creating too many contradictions.

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  • oxygen:

    @ Jman

    YOU ARE WRONG ON THIS ONE, particularly the opening paragraph. Here is a good example of cloak-and-dagger CORRUPTION of SHAKESPEARE PROPORTION of drama unfolding.

    Politician resigned without admitting guilt of corruption after investigative journalism exposed the crawling worms. Of course, the Minister of Immigration refused the Chinese billionaire quests for citizenship going by the backdoor way – ASIO RECOMMENDED REFUSAL.

    Read on

    Chinese donor had help from Liberal Party director, met Christopher Pyne

    https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/chinese-donor-had-help-from-liberal-party-director-met-christopher-pyne-20190409-p51cca.html

    and this

    Special treatment and a one-on-one lunch with Peter Dutton: how Huang lobbied for a visa

    https://www.theage.com.au/politics/federal/special-treatment-and-a-one-on-one-lunch-with-peter-dutton-how-huang-lobbied-for-a-visa-20190408-p51bzl.html

    This case history is NOT FICTION but real life happening Down Under.

    CORRUPTION BY ITS VERY NATURE HAVE TO BE CLOAK-AND-DAGGER HIDEOUS OF DOCUMENT, EVENT OR CREDIBLE WITNESS TO EXPOSE WRONG DOINGS TO BE SUCCESS OF ITS UNLAWFUL OBJECTIVES.

    Jman: A fact is something one can prove with documents, or an event to which there exists a credible witness.

    An opinion is one’s view about something. Some say it doesn’t need to be backed by fact. I would think yes and no. Yes, because if one’s view is that another is corrupt, that had better be backed by facts as this can amount to slander/libel. No, because if one’s view is that the food is not tasty, that might not need to be backed by fact as nobody is going to due one for not finding a certain food tasty.

    With the General Elections likely later this year, we are going to get another big blast of unsupported opinions making its rounds masqueraded as fact. Personally, I think people who repeat these should be taught a lesson. There is always so much garbage going around before every GE.

    Are you too naive??

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  • properties and characteristics:

    //Yes, because if one’s view is that another is corrupt, that had better be backed by facts as this can amount to slander/libel.//

    but the word corrupt can also have many properties and characteristics (as in semantics) leh. corrupt as to bribing, ideas, financial, morality, etc, etc which may transcend into an opinion when one is saying it.

    and who (even deciding on context) can really put a finger as to what the other person means when he is saying it leh. so how leh ?

    //With the General Elections likely later this year, we are going to get another big blast of unsupported opinions making its rounds masqueraded as fact. Personally, I think people who repeat these should be taught a lesson. There is always so much garbage going around before every GE.//

    do you need to worry about 151th standard of white gang which has better privilege and exemption overriding kacang-puteh unsupported opinions ? pretentious righteousness ?

    caveat : opinion lar not fact lar.

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  • Harder Truths:

    My opinion is I am discriminated as a $G local who served National Service in favour of Foreign Trash brought in by the government to take over locals’ jobs and replace us.

    The government says the facts are against me which are that I am not fully employed because I am unable to perform as good as FT (and salary is not an issue).

    Case closed. Next please.

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  • Haigen-Diaz:

    Facts, numbers and statistics, even when 100% accurate, must be looked at in a larger context. Resulting conclusions can be easily skewed. The truth of the matter is that we have descended into a morass in which it is impossible to differentiate between truth and opinion.

    The rise of social media has meant that politicians are no longer quite in control of these channels and are now unable to rely on supportive journalists and media organizations to provide a cover of credibility to their behavior.

    Any good politician is part showman, and the media will never call out their stunts for what they are, because that is actually up to the readers to decide. One thing is for sure though, the demagoguery will become more and more difficult to keep going. Ministers will eventually paint themselves into a corner-just a matter of time.

    Back to point one. Argument relies on fact, while persuasion appeals primarily to emotion supported by selected facts; both rhetorical constructs are subject to truth and justice, rooted in ethics.

    How can our illusion that’s been playing for so long still be mistaken for reality? Perhaps the population is so full of despair that reality is the last thing they want now. Cheap fiction rules in our political world at least as much as in our bookstores.

    Govt. calls it fake news when they can’t handle real news.

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  • WakeupSG:

    There is real danger in relying on the ruling Pappy party to determine what is truth which is only “knowable” when there is open freedom of speech & discourse.

    Only then can we know the truths which will set us free!

    Say NO to the fake news law by VTO this coming GE2019!

    https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-in-print/real-danger-is-not-having-multiple-sources-to-determine-truth?&utm_source=whatsapp&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=addtoany

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  • oxygen:

    @ WakeupSG

    PAPpypolitics is PLAYING GOD of only they are the one who know it all.

    LOOK AT HOW THEY MANAGE the economy in the last 2 decades. MONUMENTAL FAILURES.

    WakeupSG: There is real danger in relying on the ruling Pappy party to determine what is truth which is only “knowable” when there is open freedom of speech & discourse.

    Only then can we know the truths which will set us free!

    Say NO to the fake news law by VTO this coming GE2019!

    https://www.straitstimes.com/forum/letters-in-print/real-danger-is-not-having-multiple-sources-to-determine-truth?&utm_source=whatsapp&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=addtoany

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  • oxygen:

    WHICH WAY IS THE COURT GOING TO RULE on this UN-FAKED news?

    PAIKAR SAID IN PARLIAMENT – CPF is not your money

    Then Manpower Minister Tan Chuan Jin SAID OUTSIDE PARLIAMENT (inside Parliament he DIAM DIAM DIAM) CPF IS YOUR MONEY.

    NOW Law Minister Shanmugam said to the media – TRUTH IS NOT MALLEABLE, a fact is either true or it is false.

    IF A CASE OF CPF CAME INTO THE COURTROOM FOR THE JUDGE TO DETERMINE IS EITHER TRUE OR FALSE of CPF property ownership, is he/she the judge GOING THE WAY OF “MALLEABLE” DETERMINATION of “depending on circumstances” and convict the accused of fake online publishing – just like GRC is for minority representation only at the time of election and bugger all of bullsh*t thereafter of fiction?

    FAKE NEWS LEGISLATION IS FAKE FROM ITS CONSTRUCTION IN ENTIRETY.

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