Government to review laws to tackle fake news: Some instances of fake news

Clockwise from top left: Bata's shoes which were said to have the religious design word Allah on the sole, a faked collapsed structure at Waterway Terrace, kindergartners waiting to send Mr SR Nathan's hearse off  and NTUC's rice.
Clockwise from top left: Bata's shoes which were said to have the religious design word Allah on the sole, a faked collapsed structure at Waterway Terrace, kindergartners waiting to send Mr SR Nathan's hearse off and NTUC's rice. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, TWITTER/SOFRIEYUSOFF, ST FILE, FAIRPRICE

This article was first published on April 3, 2017, and updated on June 19, 2017.

SINGAPORE - Fake news is increasingly becoming an issue not just abroad but on Singapore shores.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament on April 3 said the Government is reviewing how to combat fake news, as current laws are limited in tackling the problem. The legislation will likely be passed next year, said Mr Shanmugam on June 19.

Here is a look at 11 instances of fake news both in Singapore and overseas, and what the truth was in each case.

1. Fake message claiming CPF savings will be transferred to Medisave account

A message circulating online saying that Central Provident Fund savings will be transferred to the Medisave account of one's nominee by default upon death is fake Singapore Government website gov.sg said in a post on June 17.

Gov.sg clarified that there is "absolutely no basis" for this rumour and said CPF savings will be given to one's nominees either through Giro or a cheque.

2. The Real Singapore's fake news about Filipinos' complaints over Thaipusam

In February 2015, the duo behind the now-defunct sociopolitical site The Real Singapore (TRS) were arrested after a police report was made against the website for inciting hatred against the Filipino community in Singapore.

An article published on TRS claimed that complaints by a Filipino family over noise caused a scuffle between the police and participants at a Thaipusam procession.

This did not happen.

For publishing the above and other seditious articles,  the Australian editor of Japanese descent, Ai Takagi, was sentenced to 10 months' jail. Her Singaporean husband Yang Kaiheng, who was co-founder of the site, received eight months' jail.

3. 'Collapsed' Punggol Waterway Terrace



SCDF said it found no sign of a collapsed structure at the site of the hoax photo.PHOTO: TWITTER / @SOFRIEYUSOFF

On Nov 11 last year, All Singapore Stuff published an article with the headline: "This just happened. The top floors of Punggol Waterway Terraces collapsed!"

Accompanying the article was a photo that showed the upper storeys of a block of flats that seemed to have collapsed.

It was in fact a hoax.

The Housing and Development Board filed a police report over the hoax photo. The editors of All Singapore Stuff deleted the article and issued an apology.

4. Viral video of 'explosion at Tuas'

A fire broke out on Feb 23 at a Tuas waste management plant, and a video of a dramatic explosion went viral - but the video was an old one, taken in a different location.

The actual fire, at ECO Special Waste Management, was put out within four hours.

However, the video that was being circulated was of an unknown location and had been posted on YouTube before in 2015, with one user naming it "Chinese gas plant explosion".

Some YouTube users speculated that it featured a camera crane and could be a film set.

5. False rumours about FairPrice's 'plastic' rice


Supermarket chain FairPrice has debunked online rumours that its housebrand jasmine fragrant rice is made of plastic. PHOTO: FAIRPRICE

In January this year, messages circulating on social media and messaging platforms claimed that FairPrice's house brand jasmine rice was made from plastic.

The supermarket chain posted a note on its Facebook page clarifying that the claim was false and that its rice was 100 per cent safe for consumption and had passed safety checks by the authorities.

It also filed a police report over the online rumours.

6. SBS Transit's '$1.02 billion profits' from public transport fares

On Feb 5 last year, the States Times Review published an article with the headline: "SBS made S$1.02 billion profits from collection of public transport fares".

This is inaccurate.

The figure used was its revenue. The profit, after tax, was about $16.7 million, or 1.5 per cent of its revenue.

The article was corrected to state that SBS made S$1.02 billion in revenue.

7. Photos showing 'near-zero turnout' for former president S R Nathan's funeral


Children from Zee Juniors, a pre-school in Dunman Road, were among the 100 or so people lining the road to send Mr Nathan's hearse off. ST PHOTOS: JOANNA SEOW

Another article by the States Times Review, published on Aug 25 last year, carried the headline: "Near-zero turnout for SR Nathan's funeral, kindergarten children forced to attend".

The article included photographs that served as "evidence" that the turnout was "near-zero".

However, in reality, the photos were taken before the Lying in State began. Photographs taken after it began showed people queuing up.

8. Man's photo misused for 'complaint about Singapore citizenship'

On Nov 22 last year, All Singapore Stuff ran an article headlined: "S'pore new citizen feels cheated, now wants his old citizenship back". It added a photo of a man unrelated to the article, whom All Singapore Stuff named "Fernandez".

The man, Mr Prakash Hetamsaria, clarified in a Facebook post that his photograph was misused. He said he had informed the authorities for them to investigate, and added that his name was not Fernandez.

In the article, which supposedly cited a letter submitted to All Singapore Stuff by a new citizen in Singapore, the man said he was "totally disappointed with Singapore" and wanted his old citizenship back.

The article is still available online, but the photo has been replaced.

9. Bata hit by claims it sold shoes with Arabic word for "Allah" on soles


The B-First shoes which were said to have the religious design word Allah on the sole of the shoes at Menara Bata. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Swiss-based company Bata said it lost more than RM500,000 (S$158,000) within a month after fake news circulated online, claiming it sold shoes with the Arabic word for "Allah" or God on the soles.

The rumours spread in February this year, forcing Bata to withdraw 70,000 pairs of its B-First school shoes from 230 stores in Malaysia.

The controversy began when a principal of a Malaysian school issued a letter to students forbidding them to buy the B-First school shoes as the word "Allah" was supposedly on the soles.

The shoes returned to shelves only after the Al-Quran Printing Control and Licensing Board of Malaysia's Home Ministry cleared Bata of the allegation on March 30.

However, Bata said its image had already suffered, on top of monetary losses.

10. Pope 'endorses' Trump, agent investigating Clinton ' found dead'

Ahead of the US presidential elections in November last year, fake news proliferated online about both candidates, Mr Donald Trump and Mrs Hillary Clinton.

Fake news circulated widely on Facebook claimed that the Catholic Pope Francis gave Mr Trump an official endorsement, while another round of false news alleged that a federal agent linked to Mrs Clinton was found dead.

The headlines said: "Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president" and "FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide".

The latter was by a fake "news page" called "The Denver Guardian", which the Denver Post said did not exist.

The Pope later warned about the dangers of fake news, saying that "disinformation is probably the greatest damage that the media can do".

11. Man fires shots in Washington pizzeria falsely accused of child sex trafficking


Flowers left in support outside Comet Ping Pong in Washington, on Dec 5, 2016.PHOTO: NYTIMES

Fake news can translate into real action of a disastrous sort.

In December last year, a man took a gun to a pizza restaurant in Washington and fired shots after reading false conspiracy theories that the pizzeria was harbouring young children as sex slaves.

No one was hurt, and he was arrested by the police.

The articles alleging that the pizzeria was part of a child-abuse ring led by Mrs Hillary Clinton were shared on social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter.

The fake news first appeared in late October, identifying the restaurant Comet Ping Pong as a headquarters for supposed child trafficking.

Despite being debunked by several publications, the rumours persisted.

SOURCES: NYTIMES, Reuters, The Denver Post