Staff Reporters
Nov 29, 2019

Facebook adds disclaimer to 'fake news' post on request of Singapore government

Backed into a legal corner, Facebook has said it is relying on the "Singapore government’s assurances that it will not impact free expression".

Facebook may now have opened the doors for further government action in revising content posted on social media, which jars with it's founder's staunch free speech stance.
Facebook may now have opened the doors for further government action in revising content posted on social media, which jars with it's founder's staunch free speech stance.

This was updated on December 1.

Facebook has complied with a Singapore government-issued order to publish a correction notice on a post by the editor of States Times Review, who has himself refused to comply with the government's order to correct the post, which the government has deemed to be 'fake news'.

The post now carries a notice which reads: "Facebook is legally required to tell you that the Singapore government says this post has false information."

A Facebook spokesperson said: "As required by Singapore law, Facebook applied a label to these posts, which were determined by the Singapore Government to contain false information. As it is early days of the law coming into effect, we hope the Singapore Government’s assurances that it will not impact free expression will lead to a measured and transparent approach to implementation.”

It is the first time the government has invoked the recently launched Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) on a social-media platform.

Facebook was issued with the first "targeted correction direction" — an order issued to an internet intermediary whose service was used to communicate a 'falsehood' that affects the public interest. The order required Facebook to publish a correction notice on a post by the States Times Review, which it considers to be a "falsehood".

The "targeted correction direction" is the government's second line of defense after issuing the initial "correction direction" to the post's author—in this case the editor of the States Times Review, Alex Tan.

States Times Review is an anti-establishment news site that describes itself as Singapore's "only independent news media". Its website is blocked in Singapore.

POFMA issued Tan with an order to issue a correction on a Facebook post on Thursday (November 28), claiming the post contained false statements.

The post in question was published November 23 and contains claims that a "whisteblower" had been arrested, and the owner of a Facebook page for NUS students is under investigation for revealing the regilious affiliation of a People's Action Party member. The Facebook page which wrote about the party candidate, "NUSSU - NUS Students United" (NSU), has since been taken down by Facebook for violating authenticity policies.

The Minister for Home Affairs has said on the 'Factually' section of the Singapore government website that no one had been arrested or charged over the NSU post, and that the claims by Tan are "false and baseless".

Tan has refused to comply with the correction order, saying in a Facebook post that "States Times Review and it’s [sic] editor, who is now a citizen of Australia, will not comply with any order from a foreign government like North Korea or Singapore".

POFMA has now "commenced investigations against Mr Tan for failing to comply".

The correction order is the second time the 'fake news' bill has been invoked since it took effect on October 2.

The first time was on Monday (November 25), when Progress Singapore Party member Brad Bowyer was directed to issue a correction over his Facebook post on Temasek and GIC as well as other government-linked companies.

The bill has raised concern over its potential to stifle free speech, and over the government's power to force "corrections" on content it deems to be "false".

Facebook has now been thrust into this debate. It had little choice but to comply with a legal order, but it may now have opened the doors for further government action in revising content posted on social media, which jars with it's founder's staunch free speech stance.

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